Next year, Steven Holcomb will likely make his fourth U.S. Olympic team. The 36-year-old bobsled legend won Olympic gold in four-man at the Vancouver 2010 Games and two bronze medals at the Sochi 2014 Games. He loves what he’s doing and, with 16 years’ experience piloting bobsleds, is one of the best drivers in the world.
“Why would I quit to try and find something else?” he said via email from Europe, where he’s preparing for his 15th world championships. “I’m pretty lucky to have found it once, I’m not pressing my luck hoping to find something else just yet.”
Several friends have advised him to slide as long as he can. “The real world isn’t going anywhere,” they’ve told him.
The hunt for an elusive Olympic gold medal in two-man bobsled has also kept him in the sport.
“It’s the one competition I haven’t won,” he said.
He won a bronze medal in Sochi and finished sixth in two-man in Vancouver. This year he is ranked second overall in two-man and won a gold medal at the Lake Placid World Cup in December.
But to get there, Holcomb will have to overcome another physical setback. Already in his career, he had surgery to repair a degenerative eye disorder before the 2010 Olympics. Then in Sochi — his third Olympics — he partially tore his Achilles tendon, then tore his quadriceps muscle the following season. He has also battled depression, attempting suicide in 2007.
Now it’s his hormones. As men age, testosterone levels drop. But Holcomb’s have dropped drastically due to medications that he took in the mid-2000s to treat depression. His testosterone levels will not return to normal without supplementation, he said.
Without enough testosterone, his body is struggling to recover from the physical demands of his sport — weightlifting, sprinting and the violent rides down bobsled tracks.
“The combination of rigorous physical dryland training, a physically demanding sport, and low testosterone hindering my recovery, it’s been a difficult few years coming back from my Achilles tear in the Sochi Olympics,” he said. “My body is struggling to keep up with the physical demands.”
He applied to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee for an exemption to supplement his testosterone to bring it back within the normal range. But his request was denied.
“I’m stuck managing and pushing through this the best that I can until I officially retire from the sport,” he said.
Holcomb is in Koenigssee in the lovely Bavarian Alps for the 2017 IBSF World Championships where he could win his 11th worlds medal. In late January, he won world cup silver in two-man on the Koenigssee track.
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Holcomb is one of 23 Team USA Olympians aiming for a fourth, fifth and maybe even sixth Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea next year. Twelve have won at least one Olympic medal in previous Games, two have had near misses, and the others have had enough world cup and world championship success to keep their dreams alive.
With a mean age of 33.95 years old, these athletes are a testament to improvements in sports science and medicine, as well as increased sponsorship to help finance their careers.
|Bode Miller competes in men's downhill at the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Jan. 15, 2015 in Wengen, Switzerland.|
At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Bode Miller, now 39, became the oldest alpine skier to ever win an Olympic medal when he took bronze in the super-G. It was his sixth Olympic medal (won in three different Games), making him the most decorated U.S. Olympic skier. At the time, he said it was his last Olympic Games.
But Miller is still listed on the U.S. Ski Team’s roster and wanted to make a comeback this year. Then a contract disagreement with his former ski sponsor kept him from returning to world cup racing. He has not raced since Feb. 5, 2015, when he severed his right hamstring tendon after crashing in the world championship super-G. After that crash, he said he was leaning toward retirement. But in September 2016, he was in Chile training on Bomber skis, a company in which he is part owner. Now a father for four, he has indicated on Twitter that he would like to return for his sixth Olympic Games, when he will be 40 years old.
Two speedskaters have a fifth Olympic Games on their radar. Shani Davis hopes to add to his four Olympic medals in PyeongChang, and the 34-year-old speedskater is back in form. In the fall of 2016, he earned two world cup podiums and became the all-time world cup points leader with 13,034 points accrued over 12 years (Canadian sprinter Jeremy Wotherspoon earned 13,009 points over 15 years).
KC Boutiette, 46, is the oldest American aiming for his fifth Games. He made his Olympic debut in 1994 at age 23, then competed in the next three Winter Games. When the ISU announced that the speedskating program in PyeongChang would include the mass start, Boutiette launched a comeback. He had raced marathons in Holland (100-lap pack races) and likes the format. In November 2016, he became the oldest skater to win a world cup medal when he earned silver in a mass start in Nagano, Japan.
If Boutiette makes the 2018 Olympic team, he will be the oldest Olympic speedskater since Albert Tebbit of Great Britain, who competed in the first Winter Games in 1924 at age 52. The oldest speedskating medalist is 38-year-old Julius Skutnabb of Finland in 1928.
|Kikkan Randall competes in the women's 10-kilometer at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at the Lugnet venue on Feb. 24, 2015 in Falun, Sweden.|
Two veteran cross-country skiers are aiming for their fifth Games in PyeongChang. Kikkan Randall, 34, is making a steady comeback after the birth of her first child last April. A favorite to medal in the freestyle sprint in Sochi, Randall did not advance beyond the quarterfinal. Missing out on a medal made her “a little bit hungry” to stay in the sport four more years.
Kris Freeman, 36, who has twice finished fourth in the 15-kilometer classic cross-country ski race at Nordic world championships, was named to his ninth world championship team this year and hopes to qualify for his fifth Olympic team next year.
On the hill, two gold-medal-winning snow sports athletes are aiming for their fifth Games. In snowboard halfpipe, Kelly Clark would like to regain the Olympic gold medal that she won in 2002 and add to the two bronze medals that she has won since then (2010 and 2014). After finishing fourth in the X Games Aspen in January, she won the U.S. Grand Prix in Mammoth, California in early February.
Returning after hip surgery, 32-year-old Julia Mancuso — who won Olympic gold in the giant slalom in 2006, then claimed two silvers in 2010 and a bronze medal in 2014 — took her first official downhill training runs in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy at the end of January, as well as downhill training runs at the 2017 world championships. But she has yet to officially race. The four-time Olympic medalist and five-time world championship medalist last raced in March 2015. She first competed in the Olympics in 2002 when she was 17 years old.
Sixteen athletes are aiming for their fourth Games.
In addition to Miller and Mancuso, four other veteran American alpine skiers are aiming for medals in PyeongChang. Three are returning from injuries and surgery: Lindsey Vonn (32, injured knee in March 2016 and broken arm, November 2016), Ted Ligety (32, torn ACL in 2016 and back surgery in January 2017), and Steven Nyman (34, knee injury in January 2017). Stacey Cook, 32, who has three world cup podiums on her resume, also hopes to compete in the speed events at her fourth Olympic Games.
|Shaun Whitepractices during a training session at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Feb. 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.|
Four veteran snowboarders are looking to make the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. In halfpipe, Hannah Teter and Shaun White would like to regain the medals that they won in 2006 (both gold) and 2010 (gold for White, silver for Teter). In early February at the U.S. Grand Prix in Mammoth, White won and Teter finished second. Both are 30 years old.
In snowboardcross, Lindsey Jacobellis, 31, is still aiming for the gold medal that has eluded her at the previous three Games. She has finished third in two world cup events this season. Nate Holland is also aiming for his fourth Olympics — and first medal. The 38-year-old won the test event in PyeongChang last February and has finished top 10 in the two world cups this year.
Three athletes in the sliding sports – aside from Holcomb – could make their fourth Olympic team. Erin Hamlin won a bronze medal in luge in Sochi and will likely be back for her fourth Olympics in 2018. She won three medals at the 2017 luge world championships and said that the PyeongChang Games will likely be her last race — although “you always say you keep an open mind,” she said recently.
In skeleton, Katie Uhlaender is also hoping to win an elusive medal. At the 2014 Games, she finished fourth, 0.04 seconds from the bronze medal. The 32-year-old took time off to heal several injuries and is back competing on the world cup for the first time in three years.
Track star Lolo Jones has switched back to bobsled from hurdles in her quest for an Olympic medal. The 34-year-old hurdler was a favorite to win the women’s 100-meter hurdles at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games but tripped on the second-to-last hurdle and finished seventh. She came in fourth at the London 2012 Games, 0.1 seconds from a medal, then missed making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team with a hamstring injury. At the 2014 Winter Games, she finished 11th as a brakewoman for Jazmine Fenlator, who is now competing for Jamaica. Should Jones make the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, it would be her fourth Games (two summer, two winter).
Veteran cross-country skier Andy Newell was a favorite to win a medal in Vancouver until he fell in the qualifier. The 33-year-old plans to marry fellow skier Erika Flowers this June, then train for his 15th season racing on the world cup — and likely his fourth Olympic Games.
Two biathletes, 34-year-old Tim Burke and 35-year-old Lowell Bailey are going for four. Both men have scored several top-10 finishes since the 2014 Games. In fact, Bailey became the first athlete of any sport to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team after scoring fourth- and sixth-place finishes at world championships Feb. 11 and 12.
In curling, 2006 Olympic bronze medalist John Shuster is aiming to skip the U.S. squad in his fourth Olympic Games in PyeongChang. The 34-year-old curler is coming off a bronze medal at the 2016 World Men’s Curling Championship.
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Olympic Trivia: Who Has Competed In The Most Olympic Winter Games?
Only two winter sport athletes have competed in more than six Games. Noriaki Kasai, a Japanese ski jumper, and Albert Demchenko, a Russian luger, began their run of seven at the 1992 Games in Albertville. Kasai won a silver medal in the team event in 1994, then two more Olympic medals in 2014 (silver and bronze). Demchenko, now 45, claimed a silver medal in men’s singles luge in 2006, then two more silver medals in 2014. Now 44, Kasai is still competing and could go for his eighth Olympic Games next year. For Team USA, Nordic combined’s Todd Lodwick became the country’s first six-time winter Olympian in 2014.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.