LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — As a snowstorm swirled around the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex, some of the drivers could have used the services of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to guide their (bob)sleighs.
But not Steven Holcomb.
With snow collecting in the track, the 36-year-old Olympic gold and bronze medalist won his first world cup medal — a silver — in four-person bobsled since before the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Driving a new BMW test sled, Holcomb’s two-run time of 1:48.70 was 0.39 seconds off winner Rico Peter from Switzerland (1:38.31) and just one-hundredth of a second ahead of Chris Spring from Canada (1:48.71).
“Pretty amazing,” said Holcomb, when asked what it felt like to stand on the podium again. “It was a great race today. The track was fast, you saw three crashes. That’s tough. It was just a great race, it was close all the way down to the last few sleds.”
Holcomb moved into second overall in the world cup standings behind Peter.
Since medaling in Sochi, Holcomb has been slowed by persistent injuries (torn Achilles in Sochi, then a strained quadriceps muscle last year). He has also worked with many new push athletes who came to the sport after the 2014 Winter Games — and after most of his 2010 and 2014 Olympic push athletes retired.
In Lake Placid, he was pushed by Carlo Valdes, a football and track and field athlete at UCLA, Jimmy Reed, a hurdler from the University of Maine, and Sam McGuffie, who played in the NFL in 2013 and the Canadian Football League in 2014. The sled came off the line only four-hundredths of a second slower than the fastest start times today. More importantly, the sled accelerated down the track, said Holcomb.
“The guys have been in the sport three years now, they know what’s going on, they understand what it takes, they’ve been around this enough that they understand that you don’t just walk in here, go do some sprints in the summer, lift some weights, and come in here and destroy the world,” said Holcomb.
Finally healthy after his run of injuries, Holcomb was also able to train hard over the summer, and he hopes that he motivated the push athletes.
“Hopefully, they can see the results already, it’s starting to pay off,” said Holcomb. “They’re starting to get a taste of what it’s like to be at the top. Once you get a little taste of it, it starts to snowball.”
This was Reed’s first world cup medal, and the second for McGuffie (he won gold in two-man yesterday with Holcomb). For Valdes, this is his third world cup medal and first in four-person.
Holcomb was also happy for young driver, Codie Bascue, who is driving the Night Train II four-person sled that Holcomb used in Sochi. In a glimpse at U.S. bobsledding’s future, Bascue finished fourth in Lake Placid, only five-hundredths of a second off the podium.
Third after the first run, the 22-year-old from nearby Whitehall, New York, slipped back to fourth. His best previous finish in four-man was ninth at the Lake Placid World Cup two years ago.
“He’s a young kid and there are a lot of grown men around here who are really hard to beat,” said Holcomb. “To play ball with us is pretty cool. The more experience he can get at the top level, the better. And it’s exciting because he’s still young.”
Bascue began bobsledding when he was 8 years old when his grandfather started a junior bobsled program at his school. He was bitterly disappointed to have dropped off the podium second run.
“I’m so anxious to be at the top of the sport and so anxious to be the best,” Bascue said. “Sometimes I lose track of how young I really am compared to all the people I’m competing against.”
It was a gender-neutral event, and Elana Meyers Taylor competed in her third four-person world cup race. Pushed by Alex Harrison, Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, and her husband Nic Taylor, Meyers Taylor’s start time was only one-hundredth of a second slower than Holcomb’s sled. Her sled finished 13th, 1.47 seconds behind the winner.
“We’re within a tenth of a second of the leaders [at the start], which I think is a huge testament to how fast she is,” said Nic. “That’s crazy. Sometimes when we push two-man together, if I’m not careful, she’ll just take off without me. So it’s really cool to be able to race with her.”
Meyers Taylor’s primary disadvantage in the event is her weight. She is too light. Four-person sleds can weigh no more than 630 kilos, and the top sleds are near that limit. But Meyers Taylor is lighter than most of the male drivers. To compensate, her sled is loaded with weight, which she and her push athletes must accelerate off the line.
“She’s about 60 pounds lighter than most of the elite guys,” said Nic, “but she’s able to hang with them in the push, which is just unreal to think about.”
The mixed gender four-person event debuted two years ago. Since then, Meyers Taylor has trained on tracks all over the world and competed in three world cups, finishing 13th in Sochi and 16th in Calgary two winters ago. She prioritizes the women’s two-man race though, and only races four-person when time and finances allow.
The IBSF World Cup is now on holiday hiatus. Racing resumes Jan. 6-8 in Altenberg, Germany.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.