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Russia wins gold in four-man bobsled; U.S. takes bronze

9:32 AM, Feb 23, 2014   |    comments
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  • USA-1 piloted by Steven Holcomb with Curtis Tomasevicz, and Steven Langton, and Christopher Fogt react after heat four of men's four-man bobsled.
  • Alexander Zubkov, pilot of Russia-1, reacts after his third run in the four-man bobsled event.



(USA TODAY) KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Russia-1 bobsled pilot Alexander Zubkov said after Saturday's two heats the four-man event would be won in the third heat on Sunday.

He was right.

In the third heat, Zubkov separated himself from field, Latvia-1 pilot Oskars Melbardis stayed in second and USA-1 pilot Steve Holcomb leapfrogged Germany-1 pilot Maximilian Arndt and that's how the podium stacked - with impressive history made.

Zubkov won in a four-heat time of 3 minutes, 40.60 seconds, becoming just the sixth person to win four-man and two-man gold in the same Olympics.

Melbardis missed out - by nine-hundredths of a second - on giving Latvia its first gold medal in Winter Olympics history, but he will take silver, and Holcomb, who held off Russia-2 pilot Alexander Kasjanov by three-hundredths of a second, snuck in for bronze.

Kasjanov is the same guy Holcomb edged by the same three-hundredths of a second for two-man gold.

"It feels really good. It was intense. He hates me, I'm sure," Holcomb said.

Holcomb, who raced with a strained left calf sustained in two-man, is the first American since Billy Fiske in 1928 and 1932 to win consecutive Olympics medals in four-man. It's his third Olympics bobsled medal after winning four-man gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games and two-man bronze here earlier this month. He is the only American pilot with more than two Olympics medals.

And if you can believe this, Holcomb ended another 62-year drought for U.S. bobsled. He is the first American pilot to win two bobsled medals in the same Olympics since Stanley Benham at the 1952 Oslo Olympics.

Holcomb's two-man bronze here was the first medal in that event since Benham in 1952, and when Holcomb won four-man gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, it was the first U.S. gold in that event since 1948.

Earlier in the week, the 33-year-old Holcomb quipped, "If anyone has another 62-year drought they need to break, let me know. I'll try to help you."

He helped himself - again.

Germany will go home without Olympics men's bobsled medal for the first time since the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics - a disappointing result for a proud bobsled nation.

There was simply no catching the 39-year-old Zubkov on this track. It's estimated he had at least 300 runs at the Sanki Sliding Center while competitors, including the USA, had about 50. Zubkov didn't win a four-man or two-man during the 2013-14 World Cup season but won twice at the Olympics.

Russia bobsled coach Pierre Lueders, the former Canadian bobsled great, enjoyed the home-surface advantage.

"There's certain lines through the corners that a lot of the teams won't be able to do what we can do," he said.

Except for a gold medal, the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation delivered outstanding results.

The USBSF won six medals in the five events: Noelle Pikus-Pace silver in women's skeleton, Matt Antoine bronze in men's skeleton, Holcomb bronze in two-man, Elana Meyers-Lauryn Williams silver and Jamie Greubel-Aja Evans bronze in women's bobsled and Holcomb wrapped it up with bronze in four-man.

It is the best Olympics for the USBSF on foreign soil and rivals the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics when its athletes medaled six times in five events. Three golds (men's and women's skeleton and women's bobsled) in Salt Lake is the difference between then and Sochi.

"It's just been a continuous evolution. There's no one thing. We're setting high expectations," USBSF CEO Darrin Steele said. "It starts with recruiting athletes. You've got to have the right coaches. You've got to get them the resources and the tools to win. The formula has worked."

The six USBSF medals trail only the United States Ski and Snowboard Association for most medals for a U.S. federation.

"The visibility is good. Success breeds success," Steele said. "I'm all about the training. So when I go and talk to sponsors and the USOC, we look at where we are relative to where we've been and where we still need to go. What the medal haul does is it validates some of the chances we've taken and investments we've made."

Those investments with the new BMW two-man sleds and with Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, headed by former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine, in the four-man sleds have helped win medals.

But Steele likes to say sleds alone don't produce results. With Holcomb injured, push athletes Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt compensated with all the speed and strength they had.

Then, it was up to Holcomb to drive.

He overcame a keratoconus, a degenerative eye disorder that robbed him of his sight, after undergoing an experimental procedure in 2008. He was on the verge of retirement and suffering from depression.

Now, he is considered one of the best bobsled pilots in the world and looking forward to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Holcomb said people keep asking him what's he's going to do after Sochi, and his answer indicates he's not ready to retire.

"I love what I do. I don't want to get a real job," he said. "I may stick around a few more years. I'm not sure. Just see how things go. I'm going to go home and relax and just gather myself over the next few weeks and see where I'm at.

"Look at Zubkov, he's 39 and he's winning. It looks promising for me. I'll be younger than he is at the next Games."

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