KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Steven Holcomb came to Sochi to win two Olympic medals in men’s bobsled. The defending Olympic champion in four-man, he hoped they would be gold medals. But bronze has a nice sheen.
On a warm Sunday afternoon at the Sanki Sliding Center, Holcomb drove USA-1, with Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton, and Chris Fogt, to third place in four-man bobsled. The medal matches the bronze he won with Langton in two-man last Monday. It also marks Holcomb’s third 62-year Olympic record. In 2010, he led the first U.S. sled to win four-man gold in 62 years, then won Team USA’s first two-man medal in 62 years earlier this week, and now becomes the first U.S. driver to medal in both two- and four-man in 62 years.
With two bronze medals, Holcomb and Langton join figure skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White as the only U.S. athletes to win multiple medals at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Add in his gold from the Vancouver Games, and Holcomb is the only American bobsled driver in history to win three Olympic medals.
“In less than a week’s time, I’ve gone from an Olympic medalist to a three-time Olympic medalist,” said Holcomb. “That’s kind of cool.”
“Really?” said Langton. “I had no idea. It’s obviously a great thing. Any medal is a great thing.”
USA-1 finished 0.39 of a second behind Russia-1, driven by Alexander Zubkov, who won his second gold of the Games.
After a brilliant second run Saturday, the Latvians leapfrogged the Americans for the silver medal spot.
Even though bronze is a different shade than gold, Holcomb was content. Long before the Sochi Games began, the 33-year-old three-time Olympian knew it would be difficult to defend the 2010 gold medal in four-man — and to win any medal in two-man. The Russians would be racing a home track. And the Sanki track isn’t a high-pressure track, the type on which Holcomb — who drives best by the feel of the track — excels.
As Holcomb said all week, he felt like an underdog.
“I would much prefer to come out here and win by 0.39 (than lose by that much),” he said. “But it’s a fight. The Russians are going to be faster, it’s their country, their home ice, and they’ve had more trips than anybody down the track. We did the best we could and came out with a medal. I’m pretty happy with that.”
He was particularly happy that his strained calf held up during the four heats. USA-1 had three of the fastest start times.
But the Sanki track proved too tricky to make up time. When asked where along the track he could lose time, Holcomb said anywhere, then listed almost every curve by number. To win here, “it’s all about who loses the least” time, he said.
Holcomb demonstrated this in Heat 4. With Russia-2 breathing down his tail, Holcomb made a mistake at curve five. USA-1 then proceeded to lose time the rest of the way down the track.
While the crowd anxiously waited, Holcomb knew he was probably still in the medals. On the uphill section that curves over the finish line, he peeked at the finish clock out of the corner of his eye.
“It still had green up there, so I was like, ‘Oh God, don’t mess this up, don’t mess this up in the last two corners!’” he said.
He didn’t mess up and finished with a 0.03 margin over Russia-2. Lying back in his sled, he looked relieved. He had been under huge pressure to medal
“When you win, everybody expects you to keep winning,” he said. “It’s not easy. These guys are tough. People are almost counting your medal in the count: ‘Well, we’ve got Holcomb coming up, he’s going to medal.’ It’s like whoa, let me get through training first.”
Holcomb was also happy for Chris Fogt, the only guy in USA-1 who had yet to win an Olympic medal. Fogt competed in Vancouver but was in USA-2, which crashed. But in Holcomb’s sled in Sochi, he was confident that he would walk away with a medal.
“You’re always hoping for gold,” Fogt said. “But honest truth, for my first one, I’ve got something. I’m very happy about that.”
Langton was also in the Vancouver sled that crashed. But he won his first Olympic medal with Holcomb in the two-man last Monday.
Joking that he has a love-hate relationship with the Sanki track, Nick Cunningham drove USA-2, with Justin Olsen, Johnny Quinn and Dallas Robinson, to 12th.
So ended the 2014 Olympic Games for the U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation — a successful Games with medals won in every event. With a total of six medals, the federation tied 2002 for its previous best result at an Olympic Games.
Holcomb now has time to rest his injured calf before gearing up for the next Olympic quadrennium. He will carry with him a warm glow from Sochi.
“We came here to win a medal and we did,” he said. “We’re leaving Olympic medalists.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.