|A recent photo of the Sliding Center Sanki in Sochi, Russia,
taken by U.S. women's bobsled driver Jazmine Fenlator.
Steven Holcomb might be a little uncomfortable standing in a hotel lobby surrounded by people speaking Russian, which is exactly where he found himself yesterday.
But a year from now, there is no other city he will want to be in more than the one where he is right now: Sochi, Russia. With the Opening Ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games set to begin exactly a year from today — on Feb. 7, 2013 — Holcomb and his “Night Train” bobsled crew are readying for their final push toward defending their Olympic gold medal. He and his teammates are in Sochi now for a test event on the Olympic track. The race, set for Feb. 15-17, is the last event of the 2012-13 season but marks a reminder of how soon the world will be convening in this same spot on the globe a year from now.
“It’s exciting,” Holcomb said in a teleconference from the Olympic city. “People are kind of getting ramped up for this. The volunteers are excited. This is only a test event but everybody’s taking their job real seriously and you know, they’re excited to see us here. … There’s a positive energy.”
Holcomb headed straight to Sochi from Switzerland where the bobsled world championships were just held. There, his four-man team earned the bronze, which was a remarkable finish considering the team was in sixth headed into the last run and used a track record to make it to the podium. Holcomb also was part of the mixed event team competition that claimed the gold medal.
Holcomb piloted Team USA to the Olympic gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, marking the first time in 62 years that the United States had claimed the Olympic crown in the four-man event. Holcomb is hoping to defend that crown in Sochi and also win a gold medal in the two-man, an event the United States has not won since 1936.
The bobsled track in Sochi, Russia, as seen by U.S. women's
bobsled driver Jazmine Fenlator.
Although Holcomb joked that he had no idea what anyone was saying in the hotel lobby, he has been impressed by what the people in Sochi have been doing, most notably how much construction has been going on in this resort town by Black Sea. Right behind Holcomb’s hotel, he said, was nonstop construction on a train station.
“I can promise you they have been working around the clock,” Holcomb said. “It’s pretty incredible to watch nonstop building.”
Also in Sochi is Alan Ashley, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief of sport performance. He will be the chef de mission for Team USA at the 2014 Winter Games and was in the Russian city for his fifth visit, and he has been pleased with the construction on the venues and other infrastructure.
The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, which run from Feb. 6-23, will feature 15 disciplines of seven sports, as recognized by the International Olympic Committee, for a total of 98 medal events, including 12 new events — biathlon mixed relay, figure skating team event, freestyle skiing halfpipe and slopestyle competitions, luge team relay, women's ski jumping, and snowboard slopestyle and parallel slalom events.
Following the Olympic Winter Games, the Paralympic Winter Games will be held in Sochi, beginning March 7 and ending March 16. Five sports will be contested in those Games: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling.
Sochi was on the minds of virtually every Team USA winter athlete, even if they weren’t already there. Team USA captured the most medals of any country at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games with 37 -- seven more than runner-up Germany. The United States was tied for third (with Norway) in the gold-medal count with nine.
The pressure to produce in Sochi is not lost on the American athletes.
Julia Mancuso, the most decorated U.S. Olympic female alpine skier, is in Austria competing at the world championships and already has her sights on Sochi. A three-time Olympian earned a gold medal in the giant slalom in Torino in 2006 and added two silvers (downhill and combined) in Vancouver.
She opened the world championships with a bronze medal in the super-G and she achieved that even though her longtime teammate Lindsey Vonn had been taken by helicopter after a crash just minutes earlier. Vonn suffered a knee injury which will force her to miss the rest of the season.
Mancuso said Vonn has “plenty of time to get ready for the Olympics” and added, “For sure, we’ll see her next year.”
In addition to Mancuso’s world medal, Team USA added a gold as Ted Ligety won the world crown in the super-G.
Americans are looking strong in other winter sports. Cross-country skier Kikkan Randall is coming off a victory at the Olympic venue in Sochi and is first in the sprint standings and third overall.
Several of America’s top skaters, including newly crowned national champion Max Aaron and U.S. silver medalist Gracie Gold, are competing in Japan in the Four Continents Championships and will make their debut at the world championships next month. In New York City Wednesday, Evan Lysacek told NBC’s Today show that he is dedicating this year to Sochi. Lysacek, however, has suffered injury setbacks and has not competed since claiming the gold medal in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, Olympic ice dancing champion Meryl Davis and Charlie White claimed their fifth consecutive U.S. title and are poised for a battle for gold at the world championships. Davis and White won the ISU Grand Prix Final, which features the top six teams in the world, at a test event in Sochi in December.
Also on the ice in Sochi recently were short track speedskaters as the Samsung ISU World Cup Short Track event was held there this month.
And the U.S. women’s ice hockey team has a strong mix of veterans and newcomers to its lineup which is hopes will help turn the Olympic tide against rival Canada in Sochi. Among the players trying to make the team for a fourth time is forward Julie Chu.
A three-time Olympic medalist, Chu is hoping to strike gold in Sochi.
“I think I’m floored right now to think that we are one year out already,” said Chu, who has earned two silvers and a bronze in Olympic competition.
For the first time, the U.S. Olympic women’s team will be led by a female coach. Katey Stone, who coached Chu, among other top women’s players at Harvard, has been named the women’s coach.
Not to be overshadowed is snowboarder Shaun White, a two-time Olympic champion. In fact, White could get both air time and face time before the Opening Ceremony begins as slopestyle snowboarding is scheduled to be broadcast a day early.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.