Steven Holcomb and USA Bobsled Salvage Disappointing Final Weekend in Sochi

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2014

The driver of United States USA-1, Steven Holcomb, acknowledges the crowd after the team won the bronze medal during the men's four-man bobsled competition final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Thank goodness for bobsled.

On the final day of the Sochi Olympics, Steven Holcomb and his "Night Train 2" sled gave Americans a reason to celebrate. Along with his teammates Steven Langton, Chris Fogt and Curt Tomasevicz, Holcomb steered the USA-1 sled to a bronze medal in the four-man bobsled race. 

It was a much-needed victory for a U.S. team that had seen disappointment after disappointment throughout the final few days of these Games.  

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

On Thursday, the women's hockey team collapsed in its gold-medal match against Canada, losing a 2-0 lead with three minutes left and falling in overtime. On Friday, the men's hockey team also lost to Canada, and on Saturday, Finland blew it out in the battle for bronze, 5-0.

Along the way, the long-track speedskating shutout continued, Ted Ligety got a DNF in his final slalom race, and no American woman made it to the figure skating podium for the second straight Olympics.

But on Sunday, Holcomb came to the rescue. Again.

Holcomb's gold medal in the four-man bobsled race in the Vancouver Games was a big breakthrough for U.S. bobsledding. It was the first Olympic bobsled gold for an American man in 62 years and certainly helped raise the profile of the sport.

In the past four years, Holcomb has continued to succeed on the circuit, and he's brought his teammates along with him. The 33-year-old came into Sochi hoping to win two bobsledding medals and break the drought for a U.S. medal in the two-man competition, which coincidentally was also at 62 years.

Unlike so many other American athletes who came into these Games highly touted and then failed to live up to the hype, Holcomb delivered. 

Along with Langton, his partner in the two-man sled, Holcomb won a bronze in both events. The duo became the first U.S. men to medal in the two-man competition since 1952, and the first American bobsledders in the same time period to leave the Olympics with two medals.

Holcomb talked to the press about the race after his second Sochi medal: 

We came here to win a medal and we did just that. It was a tough race. It wasn't easy. We kind of knew Zubkov was going to be fast and really hard to beat and the Latvians had a great day today and pulled away, but to come away with a bronze medal, we're pretty happy with it. It was a tight race and we're pretty satisfied.

He and Langton now join ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White as the only American athletes to leave Sochi with two medals.

Holcomb's feat was even more impressive when combined with the fact that he strained his left calf muscle during the finals of the two-man race. Considering their sled was in fourth place coming into the final day of the four-man competition, it took a lot of extra work for Holcomb to come up with this four-man bronze.

Rick Maese of The Washington Post outlined what Holcomb went through on Saturday night:

Holcomb and his crew...began the day in fourth place, just 0.01 seconds out of medal position. Holcomb stayed up until 2 a.m. the night before, receiving treatment on his injured calf and studying video, desperately trying to find areas on the Sanki Sliding Center track where he could make up time.

The hard work paid off. Holcomb and his team won the bronze by three hundredths of a second. It was just one more opportunity for Holcomb to show his toughness.

From 1999 to 2006, Holcomb, of Park City, Utah, was a soldier in the Utah Army National Guard. When he was honorably discharged, he began competing on the World Cup bobsled circuit and quickly rose up the ranks to become one of the best American bobsledders.

Holcomb and his teammates receiving their bronze medals.
Holcomb and his teammates receiving their bronze medals.Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

But soon he ran into trouble when his sight started to fade due to a degenerative eye disease, keratoconus. Holcomb feared that his only option was a cornea transplant—a surgery that would take him off the track for at least two years. As he dealt with the possibility of his career being over before it really began, he was overcome with depression and attempted suicide.

Luckily, Holcomb survived and found a doctor that suggested an alternative treatment, called C3-R, which involved using vitamins to make the collagen fibers of the cornea stronger.

Immediately after the quick, painless procedure, Holcomb was back dominating on the bobsled track and has since become the most successful U.S. bobsled pilot in Olympic history. He's only the second American bobsledder to ever win three Olympic medals, and the first pilot to do so.

Holcomb wasn't the only successful bobsledder in Sochi. In fact, it was a great Olympics for the Americans in the often-overshadowed sliding sports. The U.S. led all nations with seven sliding medals in Sochi. 

During a fortnight that saw millionaire hockey players fail to show up when it counted and superstar Shaun White go out with a whimper, it was Holcomb and his teammates who came through when it mattered most for the United States.

By capturing the final medal for Team USA at these Games, Holcomb and his crew helped American fans look past the many high-profile disappointments and focus on the true meaning of the Olympics.