LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Call Steven Holcomb Mr. Icebreaker.
Three years ago, Holcomb, the top driver on the U.S. bobsled team, broke a 50-year gold-medal drought for America in four-man competition at the Bobsled World Championships. Two years ago, he won the first four-man Olympic gold for his country since 1948, and on Sunday he went where no U.S. bobsledder had gone before — to the top of the podium in two-man at worlds.
And he did it in a sled he had never raced.
"That's going to take a little while to sink in," said Holcomb, of Park City, Utah. "My world championship medal it had been 50 years. My (Olympic) gold medal was 62 years. And now this — never, ever. This is no years. It's going to take a little bit to sink in."
In the team event, Holcomb switched sleds and his brakeman and anchored the U.S. to another victory in 56.20 seconds, the fastest of the eight teams competing.
"This is probably the second-best day of my life," said Holcomb, brakeman Justin Olsen at his side. "Just goes to show the depth of our team. Watch out, Sochi!"
Three years ago, Holcomb won the two-man bronze and four-man gold at worlds in Lake Placid on his home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
This time, he surged past first-day leader Lyndon Rush of Canada with a near-flawless third run. Holcomb and brakeman Steve Langton had a four-run time over two days of 3 minutes, 42.88 seconds, putting them 0.46 seconds ahead of Rush and brakeman Jesse Lumsden.
"This is fantastic," Langton said. "This is my fifth year in the sport and I've had some good results, but to come out here and win my first big championship is pretty amazing. It's really indescribable."
Maximilian Arndt and Kevin Kuske of Germany took the bronze, 0.55 behind Holcomb. World Cup champion Beat Hefti and Thomas Lamparter of Switzerland were fifth and John Napier and Christopher Fogt sixth for the U.S., which placed all three of its sleds in the top 10. Rookie Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson finished ninth.
"I'm at a loss for words," said Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. "It's been a long time for us. Holcomb's becoming a legend in his own right, and all these teams. It's just been an amazing race."
Before Sunday, the best the U.S. had done in two-man at the worlds was four silvers — Stanley Benham (1950-51), Art Tyler (1957), and Gary Sheffield (1961). Since the discipline began at worlds in 1931, the U.S. also had collected only six bronze medals — Brian Shimer (1997), Howard Clifton (1967), Tyler (1959), Benham (1954) and Fred Fortune (1949-50).
"I guess the hard one's out of the way. We know we can do it," said Shimer, now the men's coach. "Coming in here we were confident, but you just never know. Things worked out. I can't say enough about Holcomb. He's just an unbelievably talented pilot. Anything you throw at him he seems to get it down the hill quick."
Piloting the sled Shauna Rohbock drove to the silver in the women's race at worlds last year in Konigssee, Germany, Holcomb drove USA-1 into contention for the gold on Saturday. He recovered from a shaky first run to finish the day second, just 0.12 seconds behind Rush.
Before he climbed out of the sled for the ride back to the top between runs on the first day, Holcomb already knew what had gone wrong and sent word: "Got it figured out. Time to make my move," he tweeted.
Holcomb cut Rush's lead in half with a sterling second run, the fastest of the 27 sleds that completed the run, and kept up the pressure in Sunday's first heat.
Rush slid first, getting the advantage of clean ice for being the first-day leader, but he bobbled in the tricky curve just past the midpoint of the 20-curve layout and finished the run in 55.86 seconds.
Next up was Holcomb, and after a strong start of 5.07 seconds — the best of the heat — he laid down a time of 55.54 seconds, the fastest of any team in all four heats as Shimer gave them a thumbs-up, a big smile creasing his face at the finish.
That put the American duo in command with a lead of 0.20 seconds over Rush and 0.26 ahead of Arndt.
In the span of two runs, Holcomb and Langton had gained nearly a half-second on the Canadians. But this is a sport where mistakes come swiftly.
"Need to stay focused and relaxed and do it again. The race isn't over," Holcomb tweeted before the final run.
Holcomb did just that, placing the finishing touch on the day with a final run of 55.63 seconds, beaten only by fourth-place finishers Francesco Friedrich and Marko Huebenbecker of Germany.
"Yesterday, if that was World Cup I would have won, even though I wasn't the best team," said Rush, who was fighting a stomach bug. "But at world championships, the Olympic Games, the best team wins. Hats off to them. They're the best team. We weren't really that close when you think about it. We had a lead going into the third heat and just got blasted."
Just as he did three years ago, Holcomb skipped the final two races of the World Cup season — he still finished seventh in two-man and sixth in four-man — to prepare for worlds as the coaches took a calculated gamble putting him in a different sled. Shimer said only time would tell if the gamble was worth it.
"Phenomenal," Holcomb said. "I always wondered when we won the world championships (in 2009) if the second one was ever going to be as nice."
The team event is consists of one heat in four disciplines — men's and women's skeleton, women's bobsled, and men's two-man bobsled.
Team USA-1 also also included bobsledders Elana Meyers and Emily Azevedo, and skeleton sliders Katie Uhlaender and Matt Antoine. They finished in 3 minutes, 44.98 seconds. That was 0.73 seconds ahead of Germany 1, and 1.3 seconds ahead of third-place Canada 1.
- Steven Holcomb