Current, former Soldiers finish initial bobsled heats at Olympics
February 22, 2010
- "There's a different energy in the air."
- "There's no way to prepare for the Olympics and the atmosphere."
- "This track is very tough and very technical."
WHISTLER, British Columbia - Former U.S. World Class Athlete Program bobsled driver Steven Holcomb is in fourth place after two of four heats in the Olympic two-man bobsled competition at Whistler Sliding Centre.
Holcomb teamed Saturday night with Curt Tomasevicz for a two-run cumulative time of 1 minute, 43.93 seconds, just .62 seconds off the pace set by reigning Olympic champion Andre Lange and Kevin Kusge in Germany-1, which was clocked in 1:43.31. They are followed by the Germany-2 duo of Thomas Florschuetz and Richard Adjei with a time of 1:43.42.
The Russia-1 sled manned by Alexandr Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda is in third place with a two-run time of 1:43.81.
"We're medal hopefuls, and we're still in striking distance," said Holcomb, who spent eight years in WCAP. "We're just going to go out there and do the best (during the next heats). We're going to watch video, analyze what we did wrong and hopefully fix. Hopefully, we'll come out and get a medal."
Holcomb and Tomasevicz began their 2010 Olympic journey by bursting off the start in 4.79 seconds, the fifth fastest of the first heat despite having trouble getting off the block.
"I was a little disappointed in the first run only because the sled popped out of the groove," Tomasevicz said. "But the time wasn't bad compared to the rest of the field."
The "Night Hawk" team gained momentum, clocking the fastest split times down the challenging course before Holcomb had trouble navigating Corner 12. The duo was on the verge of rolling, but Holcomb regained control and led his sled to the finish in 51.89 seconds, putting USA I in sixth position after the first heat.
"We were to a point where the alarms were going off in my head," Holcomb said. "Fortunately we made it, but anything can happen. I named that curve, so it almost came back to bite me, but that is part of the sport."
Curve 13 is known as the "50/50," a reference Team USA athletes made to the perceived chance pilots have of making it through the corner without turning their sleds.
Team USA I posted a start time of 4.82 seconds in the second heat before twisting and turning its way down the 16-curve course to the finish in 52.04 seconds. Holcomb and Tomasevicz clocked a two-run total of 1:43.93, just 0.12 seconds from the Olympic podium, in fourth position.
"There's a different energy in the air," said Holcomb, the 2008-2009 World Cup champion pilot in the four-man event. "It's kind of a different feeling, but at the same time we're just doing the best we can out here, but you've got to know that everybody's giving 100 percent so you can't expect to be a decorated slider and just go through. You need to fight for every spot you can."
WCAP bobsled driver Sgt. John Napier of Lake Placid, N.Y., teamed with Steve Langton of Melrose, Mass., in USA II to finish 11th after the first day of competition with a combined time of 1:44.73. They powered off the block with identical start times of 4.89 seconds for runs of 52.28 and 52.45 seconds.
"There's so much excitement and anxiety out here," Napier said. "The first run didn't really take a hold of me. I didn't expect it. There's no way to prepare for the Olympics and the atmosphere here. There are so many people, so many fans, a million people watching. There's no way to prepare for that or no words to describe this environment right now and how I'm feeling.
"The second run, I said, 'Hey, it's just another bobsled run.' I push hard, I go down, and I get to the finish line. We drove a lot better," Napier said of his best run of the week that featured six practice runs on the fastest bobsled track in the world.
Napier comes from a family of bobsledders and began driving when he was 8 years old, while Langton hails from a track-and-field background and was recruited into the sport only two years ago.
"I got a little nervous and made a few mistakes, but hopefully tomorrow I can make improvements," said Napier, who is competing in his first Olympics. "This track is very tough and very technical, but I didn't grow up on a kinder-bobbing easy track, I grew up on a difficult track: Lake Placid, New York, where I learned how to drive. I just love the toughness; I love the speed."
Napier also is ecstatic about representing troops worldwide at the XXI Olympic Winter Games.
"I got an e-mail yesterday from a troop I didn't know and I've never met in my life," Napier said. "He said, 'Hey, I just want to commend you on what you're doing. I notice you're an athlete, you're an Army athlete, and you're a Christian athlete. He said 'I got blown up by an IED attack last year and I'm out of the Army right now.' I'm not sure of the extent of his injuries, but he said 'getting blown up sucks but you make it worth it by what you're doing for the Army and how you're representing makes it worth it.'
"I realized at that point the only way I can lose is to hold my head low as any finisher, whether I make it downwind, crash and get last place, the only way I can lose is if I don't try my hardest or hold my head down low. So I'm going to hold it high and I'm going to represent for the Army for that Soldier and many other Soldiers overseas right now."
Former WCAP and current Army National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program bobsled driver Mike Kohn of Chantilly, Va., and Nick Cunningham of Monterey, Calif., are in 12th place with a cumulative time of 1:45.18.
"I think we caught about three people and that was pretty cool," Kohn said. "We've just got about 11 more to catch tomorrow, so that would be nice. I wish I had more training time, but it is what it is. I've just got to get video tonight and start to figure things out and do the best we can with what we've got."
Kohn, a 2002 Olympic bronze medalist, teamed with first-time Olympian Cunningham for push times of 4.91 seconds. Kohn navigated his BoDyn sled to the finish in 52.47 and 52.71 seconds.
Cunningham was announced as Kohn's two-man partner on Thursday, following the first day of official training.
"This experience been absolutely unbelievable," said Cunningham. "I have to thank USA 1, 2 and 3, and even the guys who didn't make this team. I'm out there representing everybody. I'm kind of the little guy, but I couldn't be there without them. Coming from an alternate position and kind of learning the ropes so quickly, it's absolutely a dream come true."