‘Night Train’ gives US 1st 4-man gold since 1948
AP Sports Writer
WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) - With one more perfect run down slid
‘Night Train’ gives US 1st 4-man gold since 1948
TIM REYNOLDS,AP Sports Writer
WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) – With one more perfect run down sliding’s most treacherous track, Steven Holcomb drove USA-1 to the Olympic gold medal in four-man bobsledding Saturday, ending a 62-year drought for the Americans in the event.
It was the first gold medal for the U.S. in sliding’s signature race since Francis Tyler won one for the Americans at St. Moritz in 1948.
Holcomb’s four-run time was 3 minutes, 24.46 seconds, with Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz pushing for him again – just as they did in winning the world championship a year ago.
“This is bigger,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said.
German Andre Lange, who failed to win a gold medal for the first time in five Olympic events, had a nearly perfect final run to win the silver in his final race. Lange finished 0.38 seconds behind Holcomb and his team.
Lyndon Rush drove Canada-1 to the bronze.
Holcomb and his sledmates crossed the finish line then wrapped each other in American flags. Holcomb hoisted his helmet high as family and friends craned for photographs, and a party the U.S. program waited 62 years to throw was finally getting under way.
“This will take a while for it to sink in,” Holcomb said. “You work so hard, and when you finally get there it’s like, ‘Well, now what? I don’t know what to do.’ We’ve worked so hard and gone through so much in the last four years to end on a high note like this is huge. It’s overwhelming.”
USA-3 driver Mike Kohn was a push athlete for Shimer’s sled at those 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when Todd Hays drove to silver and Shimer got the Americans a bronze.
“It’s huge,” said Kohn, who finished 13th. “This is a great moment. It’s hopefully going to change the program and bring some publicity and some funding to this sport, just like it did in ’02 when we won silver and bronze.”
Minutes after it was over, Tomasevicz – a native of Shelby, Neb., and the lone Nebraskan to compete at the 2010 games – pulled off Holcomb’s hat, planting a smooch on his pilot’s bald, sweaty head.
Sealed with a kiss, it was, and then the four men stood atop the podium for the flower ceremony at trackside – medals come later Saturday night – and did what’s known as the “Holcy Dance,” the little shuffle step that Holcomb does to keep his team loose.
From there, Holcomb hugged anyone he could wrap his giant arms around, and Mesler hopped the wall of the bleachers to celebrate with his family.
“It means an awful lot,” said Darrin Steele, CEO of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. “This has been a long road. But all the components came together. You put a sled and a team together, and you never know how it’s going to go.”
A slew of U.S. teammates rushed to Holcomb’s sled, and one of the first to offer congratulations was Geoff Bodine, the 1986 Daytona 500 champion who was the driving force behind the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project – which funded and built the sleds Americans raced at the Vancouver Games.
“It’s a great thing for the U.S.,” Canada-2 driver Pierre Lueders said. “They’ve been competitive in bobsled for so long, but have been shut out quite a few times. He definitely is a talent, and I can’t wait to see how he’s going to do four years from now.”
Holcomb had a lead of 0.40 seconds over Rush after Friday’s first two runs, a giant advantage in sliding.
“It was actually torture to have to wait for a whole night for this,” Steele said.
Holcomb was walking around trackside about an hour before the final heat, shaking his finger, mouthing the words “one more.” With a lead of 0.45 seconds over Rush, all Holcomb needed to do was get his sled down the mountain without a huge mishap, knowing his lead was such that no one could catch him.
All he had to do was not wreck before Curve 13, this track’s most dangerous turn, the one Holcomb himself dubbed “50-50” after seeing roughly one out of every two sleds crash there last year.
Holcomb and his sledmates grabbed each other by the hands one last time, took one last look down the hill and prepared to push the “Night Train” – the menacing, flat-black, super-high-tech sled that is coveted by almost every bobsledder in the world – into Olympic lore.
A mere 51.52 seconds later, it was over.
With that came a deafening roar, even louder than the silence that permeated the Whistler Sliding Center before these games began.
It’s barely been two weeks since Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed during a luge training run and died just hours before the opening ceremony. The Olympic track has been a lightning rod of criticism since. There were dozens of crashes on the super-fast surface, six during Friday’s four-man heats alone, one bad enough to knock up-and-coming American John Napier – some say he’ll be better than Holcomb – out of the Olympics with a sore neck.
It might be the toughest track in the world, but Holcomb made it look toothless.
It wasn’t long ago that Holcomb had 20-500 vision – “profound visual impairment” – that could have ended his bobsledding career before he managed to scrape up $15,000 to have contact lenses embedded behind his iris to correct a degenerative condition. He’s bobsled’s best now.
Holcomb was 8 when he saw a big, red Canadian bobsled on TV speeding down a track somewhere in the world. Already hooked on speed from Alpine skiing, Holcomb was quickly fascinated with sledding – but it took about a decade to achieve.
Holcomb was about 18 when he got word that a bobsled tryout meeting was taking place at a bar in his native Park City, Utah. He and Tristan Gale tried to get in, unsuccessfully because neither was old enough to legally get past the door.
Fortunately for the USBSF, neither was deterred by Utah’s liquor laws.
Gale won skeleton gold at Park City in 2002.
And eight years later, Holcomb joins her as an Olympic champion.
The “Night Train” guys were overwhelmed a few weeks ago, when they were surprised with shimmering championship rings for winning the four-man world title.
A new piece of jewelry awaits.
It was 1948 when Tyler, Patrick Martin, Edward Rimkus and William D’Amico went to St. Moritz and won the four-man bobsled gold for the United States, the second time in three Winter Olympics that Americans won sliding’s marquee event.
A 50-year gap between world four-man titles for the U.S. ended last year in Lake Placid. And now, the Olympic skein is finally over.
“When they raise the flag and play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ for your son,” said Steve Holcomb, the bobsledder’s father, his voice choking at the thought, “well, that’s pretty cool.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.