Steve Langton poses for a portrait ahead of the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 on Feb. 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Either an apparition or something in Milwaukee’s water may have resurrected the career of Olympic bobsledding medalist Steve Langton earlier this year.
Langton retired from international competition after Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, believing he was finished.
“My heart was full, as I had been competing seven years in the sport and had a lot of success,” Langton said. “In retrospect, if I had kept going I wouldn’t be here now.”
Like so many push athletes, Langton followed a distinguished track-and-field career to an unexpected path of bobsledding. He was a sprinter and jumper at Northeastern University. Although he said the hurdles were his best event, he specialized in the 100-meter. He had a great start but not so spectacular finish in the sprint race.
“If 30 meters was an event in college then I probably would’ve been a national champion,” he joked. “But you’ve got to run the entire race.”
While watching bobsledding during the Olympic Winter Games Torino 2006 on TV, Langton first thought about making the move from a traditional summer sport to bobsledding.
“No one grows up thinking they’ll be a bobsledder for the U.S.,” Langton said.
Langton broke into the sport and was the team’s 2008 rookie of the year. He won his first two-man gold at a North American Cup event in Lake Placid, New York, in April of 2009. He competed in both two-man and four-man with pilot Todd Hays, and they won a handful of gold medals on American soil.
Langton continued to push for Hays and John Napier for two years until he hooked up with Steven Holcomb during the 2010-11 season. They scorched the U.S. circuit and shined on the international stage.
During the three world championships in the quad leading to Sochi, Langton and Holcomb won gold in 2012 and finished fourth in 2013, and the four-man team that included the duo won gold in 2012 and bronze in 2011 and 2013.
This buildup led into the Sochi Games, where they won bronze in both two-man and four-man. Langton said he knew going into Sochi that he would probably call it a career after those Games.
He put his business management degree to work and began working for Kohler’s marketing department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Working through retail channels for fixtures and faucets, he dealt with promotional analytics. He would run numbers on the front end and make recommendations on how much the company should push, and when.
He helped make decisions on what works and how they can do it better, much like athletes do when they train at elite levels. Then one day early this year, after being apart from international bobsledding for three years, he woke up transformed in his thinking.
“When February rolled around, I literally woke up one day and said I want to get back in the sled and bring home gold,” Langton said. “I don’t know if I dreamt something or if I had a good night’s sleep. Maybe it’s something in the water.”
He approached his bosses at Kohler and they accommodated a training regimen around his hourly work. Because of locations of work and training facilities, it made for long days in Milwaukee. He’d wake up and leave the house by 5:45 a.m., and he would work, train, drive, work, drive, train, eat meals in the car and make it home by 11:30 p.m.
Then he would do it all over again the next day. To top it off, he said Wisconsin weather conditions along Lake Michigan aren’t the most optimal in February and March.
On April 1 he moved to Lake Placid to train while his company allows him to work remotely. Now his days are shorter and much more structured as he lives, trains and eats at the facility and works remotely from his room.
His focus is solely set on the 2018 Games in PyeongChang. When he arrived back into the sport, there was a good chance he would team back up with Holcomb. But tragically, in May of this year, his longtime teammate and groundbreaking pilot was found dead in his room at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
Langton remembers his friend, but he also knows he must press on.
“We shared a lot of meaningful, pivotal times together,” Langton said. “Most people don’t know the sport without Steven Holcomb. Not just what he did in the sport, but what he contributed all around.”
Langton said he doesn’t know who he’ll start working with as a partner.
“We haven’t gotten to that position. After Calgary [at the USA Bobsled National Push Championships] it’s the first step to developing teams,” he said.
One possible pilot could be Justin Olsen, who was Langton’s roommate for five years. Langton said they both entered the sport at the same time and competed often. They formed a bond. Now Olsen has been a pilot for three years, and Langton could be his teammate.
Langton said getting faster and stronger is paramount, regardless of who his teammate will be. In his words, “Gold is the goal.”
“For us it really it ties to how fast and strong you are, and I’ve put in enough hours,” Langton said. “I have six months left in the sport to accomplish what I want to accomplish, and I’m excited about what’s to come.”
Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 18 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.