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They're giant sleighers

WINTER OLYMPICS

Steve Holcomb pilots the U.S. to its first gold medal in four-man bobsled since 1948. The win ends the dominance of Germany's Andre Lange, who had won four of the last six golds in two- and four-man.

February 28, 2010|By Candus Thomson

Reporting from Whistler, Canada — Steve Holcomb said no one would care if he didn't win the four-man bobsled competition to end a 62-year-old U.S. drought.

For the first time all week, the world's best bobsled driver this season was completely wrong.

The reigning world champion and overall World Cup winner added Olympic gold to his list of accomplishments Saturday with a decisive win against a field that included the most decorated man in bobsled history and the driver with the most runs on the Whistler track. Behind the controls of the Night Train sled, Holcomb put away the competition with a four-run combined time of 3 minutes 24.46 seconds. He prompted thousands of people at the track to cheer and blow train whistles. And he made his coach's eyes fill with tears as he discussed the race afterward.

When asked if he stood by his original pronouncement, Holcomb stammered and then issued a clarification.

"Well, um, yeah. Of course they care," Holcomb said, laughing. "Now they do. But if we hadn't won, it just would have been another four years. It would have been 66 years. Now we have to start the clock all over and do it again in Sochi."

He continued, "It's an amazing feeling. You kind of dream about it for years and then all of the sudden, it's happening and you can't put it into words. It's overwhelming."

The win also was the 37th medal for Team USA, the most won by a nation at a single Winter Olympics.

The last U.S. gold medalist in four-man was Francis Tyler, who piloted USA-1 to a winning time of 5:20.10 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1948.

Holcomb's win also ended the dominance of Germany's Andre Lange, who earned four of the last six Olympic gold medals in two- and four-man bobsled. This time, he settled for silver, 0.38 of a second behind Holcomb. Lange was in third before the final run but put his foot on the accelerator to blast past Canada's Lyndon Rush, the most experienced driver on the Whistler track, for a 0.01-second margin.

It was a masterful display by the pilot on his final run before retirement.

"When I stepped out of the track today, I had to take a deep breath and tears came to my eyes. It feels like a huge burden has been lifted. A new life begins, a normal life, and it's scary," said Lange, 36.

John Napier, pilot of USA-2, withdrew from competition with a neck strain suffered in a crash on Friday. USA-3 driver Mike Kohn finished 13th, 2.86 seconds behind the leader.

U.S. Coach Brian Shimer, who won the four-man bronze in 2002, grew emotional as he spoke of Holcomb's accomplishment.

"This is just as sweet . . . It took me five Olympics just to get a bronze and here he is at his second with a gold. I'm just happy to be a part of that," he said.

Sporting love handles and a beer gut, Holcomb, at 5 feet 7 and 240 pounds, looks more like a security guard than an Olympic champion. He pokes fun at his Everyman looks, appearing in a YouTube video, "The Holcy Dance," stiffly shuffling his way around the bobsled tracks of the world.

But all of that hides the fact that Holcomb can lift almost as much weight as anyone on the team and has explosive speed at the start. Add to that an instinctive feel for guiding a speeding bullet through twists and turns at 95 mph, and you have the key to success, Shimer said.

At just 29, Holcomb, a former sergeant in the Utah National Guard, expects to stay on and make a run at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

"I'm a lifer," he said. "I'm not planning on going anywhere. Hopefully, I'll be out here like Lange, 37, 38 years old doing this. I'm living a dream. How could I give it up?"

cthomson@tribune.com

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