KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Steven Holcomb said he doesn't really think too much about the number 62. But it's a number the 33-year-old from Park City, Utah will always be connected to in the history of United States Olympic bobsledding.
After breaking a 62-year-old U.S. gold medal drought in four-man at the Olympics by winning in Vancouver in 2010, Holcomb ended another 62-year dry spell for American bobsledders Monday at the Sochi Olympics when he claimed the bronze medal in the two-man at the Sanki Sliding Center.
Lake Placid native Stanley Benham was the last American who drove to a two-man Olympic bobsled medal, taking a silver at the 1952 Winter games in Oslo, Norway. This time Holcomb, who also lives much of the year in Lake Placid and is the defending Olympic four-man champion driver, teamed up with Steven Langton to end that long run of missing out on the medals.
USA 1 driver Steven Holcomb and brakeman Steve Langton push their sled Monday to start the third run.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Holcomb finished behind the gold medalist Alexander Zubkov, who was racing in his home nation of Russia, and silver medalist Beat Hefti of Switzerland.
"That's not something you really think about," Holcomb said two man medals drought. "We're all trying to win here. Hopefully it's not another 62 years that we have to wait."
Zubkov's victory was also a historic one for his country. It marked the first time that Russia has claimed a bobsled gold at the Olympics. Along with brakeman Alexey Voevoda, the 40-year-old Zubkov had the fastest finish times in all four heats of the race that was held over two days. He drove to victory with a total time of 3 minutes, 45.39 seconds.
Hefti joined with brakeman Alex Baumann to take second with a 3:46.05 total. Holcomb and Langton finished with a 3:46.27 total, and they barley got to the podium by edging the Russia 2 sled with driver Alexander Kasjanov and brakeman Maxim Belugin. That pair finished just .03 behind the USA 1 sled.
Holcomb said he actually discussed dropping out of the race with coach Brian Shimer prior to Monday's third and fourth heats after he strained a calf muscle pushing on the second run Monday. The reasoning would have been not jeopardizing the opportunity of defending his four-man title. But since Holcomb and Langton were in reach of the podium when they stood in third place after Sunday's first two runs, they decided to continue.
"We had a great couple of days," Holcomb said. "I did strain my calf a little bit, but Steve Langton definitely stepped up and gave me two great pushes today. But bobsled comes down to three things: great push, great drive, great equipment. Fortunately it all came together. It held up and we came away with the bronze."
The bronze was the first Olympic medal for Langton, whose quest for the podium four years at the Vancouver games ended in a crash while he was a push athlete on the USA four-man sled driven by John Napier, who has since retired from bobsledding. Langton said he would have "strongly considered" retiring had he earned an Olympic medal back then.
"Right after we hit the ice on our heads out of turn 13 in Vancouver, I guess that's when the decision was made to go another four years in pursuit of that Olympic medal," Langton said. "For us to end up upside down was the complete opposite of what we were looking for. That was a tough one on that type of stage. It definitely hurt emotionally and physically."
Langton said that he'll never forget the feeling of riding up the finish ramp after Monday's fourth run knowing that he had finally won an Olympic medal. He said teammates, including two other drivers in the race, Nick Cunningham and Cory Butner, were there to greet USA 1 near the finish deck.
"I had to stop the sled short because I was going to hit three or four people," Langton said. "I think Nick Cunningham sacked me over the short wall as soon as I got out of the sled, and I'm sure Cory said something to me. We had a USA-style pig pile. That's the quintessential Olympic moment that I'll remember for the rest of my life.
"The thing about dreams is that they are really scary in, depending on your dream you might not accomplish it," Langton continued. "Today answers that question that probably every amateur athlete asks them self; 'Was it really worth it?' and the answer is an absolute yes."
The Olympic two-man bobsled competition started Sunday with 29 sleds. The Serbia 1 sled raced both runs Sunday but did not compete in Monday's third and fourth runs. The fastest 20 sleds from the third run qualified to race in the fourth and final heat.
Driving in their first Olympics, Butner and Cunningham raced to respective 12th and 13th place results. Along with brakeman Chris Fogt, Butner drove USA 2 to a 2:50.33 finish time, which was 1.43 seconds off Zubkov's winning total. Cunningham joined brakeman Dallas Robinson in USA 3 and finished with a 2:50.78 total.
The men will take Tuesday off and then begin to prepare for the four-man race, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, which are the final two days of the Sochi Winter Olympics. The women bobsledders take to the track Tuesday and Wednesday in their four-run competition.