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Bronze medal ends 62-year drought in two-man bobsled for U.S.

Feb. 17, 2014 - 04:43PM   |  
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA — In 2011, a 62-year-old bottle of Dalmore single malt whisky reportedly sold for $194,000 in Singapore.

There were two bronze medals, also 62 years in the making, won on Monday night at Sanki Sliding Center that you can bet are considered much more valuable by their new owners.

Pilot Steve Holcomb and brakeman Steve Langton became the first two-man bobsled team from the United States to earn an Olympic medal in more than six decades when they finished third on the track of the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Holcomb, an Army veteran and Park City, Utah, native who won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in four-man.

Alexander Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda won gold by a whopping 0.66 seconds — a virtual light year in bobsled — over the Swiss team of Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann. USA-1 with Holcomb and Langton were 0.88 off the winning time, and only .03 faster than the fourth-place sled, Russia-2.

They celebrated like the were Olympic champions, however.

“We came here to win gold,” Holcomb said, “but I’m going home with an Olympic medal. I’m happy with that.”

Holcomb apparently has a lucky number of 62. His triumph in Vancouver ended a 62-year gold-less slump for the USA in four-man bobsled.

“This is my second 62-year drought I’ve been a part of,” Holcomb said. “If anyone else has a 62-year drought, let me know.”

Team USA Coach Brian Shimer, who finished third in the four-man event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, said “I think I’m more excited for this bronze than I was for me.”

The last time an American two-man sled won an Olympic medal was at the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo, Norway, where Stanley Benham of Lake Placid, N.Y., and Patrick Martin of Massena, N.Y., earned silver.

“To be a part of history is incredible,” said Langton, of Melrose, Mass.

Holcomb and Langton were in third place heading into Monday, when the final two heats of the four-heat competition were run down the 17-turn track.

But while they were in an ideal position in the standings — up by .08 of a second over the fourth-place team from Canada and .36 of a second from first place — they weren’t in an ideal spot health-wise.

Holcomb had strained his left calf muscle during the second heat on Sunday night. On his second step of the push to the start bar, he felt a twinge. Well, much more than a twinge.

While he managed to steer the sled well enough to maintain third place, there was concern that he wouldn’t be able to compete on Monday.

“I was up until about 2 in the morning, trying to keep it loose,” he said.

The Team USA training staff worked their medical magic, and he was good to go for heat three. Not 100 percent by any means, but OK to compete.

The plan, Shimer said, was for Holcomb “to run gingerly to the bar” and let Langton do as much of the push as possible.

“I knew I would have to give every ounce of everything I had,” Langton said.

They lost ground on the leader in the third heat but added another hundredths of a second to the margin between third and fourth.

For the final heat, Holcomb took a far less conservative approach on the push. They zipped through the finish line, stopping the timer at 3 minutes, 46.27 seconds for the four-heat total. The Russian team of Alexander Kasjanov and Maxim Belugin was fourth at 3:46.30.

A toast to Holcomb was certainly in order.

“He’s literally elevated the entire U.S. bobsledding program,” said Nick Cunningham, who piloted USA-3 to a 13th-place finish.

Oklobzija writes for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y.

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