By Tim Hipps and Gary SheftickFebruary 17, 2014
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (Army News Service, Feb. 17, 2014) -- Mired in a 62-year medal drought in Olympic two-man bobsled, Team USA was in medal contention after two of four heats in the competition Feb. 16 at the Sanki Sliding Centre.
Former U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program driver Steven Holcomb, of Park City, Utah, and Steve Langton, of Melrose, Mass., were in position to be the first Americans in 62 years to win a two-man bobsled Olympic medal after finishing third in Monday night's first two heats of competition. Sitting just 0.04 seconds from the silver-medal spot and 0.36 seconds out of the lead, Holcomb and Langton also were in contention to be the first Americans ever to win a two-man bobsled Olympic gold medal in 78 years.
"It's not something we really think about," said Holcomb, who spent seven years in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, known as WCAP. "It's kind of like Vancouver: we still have a job to do, and we still have to do it well. We're going to come out tomorrow and throw down two runs as fast as we can and hopefully be the best."
Holcomb is accustomed to the pressure of being on the brink of making history. He led his team to the four-man bobsled gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, breaking a 62-year medal drought for Team USA.
Holcomb and Langton were second to Russians Alexander Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda after the first heat. Zubkov piloted RUS-1 the finish line in 56.25 seconds, while Holcomb navigated his BMW sled to the finish in 56.34 seconds to position USA-1 within striking distance of gold.
Zubkov again laid down the fastest time of the second heat, 56.57 seconds, to solidify himself as the overnight leader with a combined time of 1 minute, 52.82 seconds. The Swiss team of Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann threaded together a fast second run to move ahead of Holcomb and Langton with a total time of 1:53.14. USA-1 fell just 0.04 seconds from silver medal position with a two-run total of 1:53.18.
"I said coming into this that it's going to be a good race and I knew the home team was going to be hard to beat," Holcomb said. "It's going to be a battle to the end. Everything is going well for us though. We had two great pushes. Steve was on fire today. I drove well, and the sled is running fast. We just need to do it again tomorrow."
Holcomb and Langton posted the third and seventh fastest push times of today's heats, 4.83 and 4.86 seconds, respectively.
"Top three or four at the finish was exactly where we wanted to be," Langton said. "I'm content with the pushes, and hopefully tomorrow we can come out and put it all together."
The Germans are noticeably absent from the top six results. The last time a German crew finished off the Olympic podium in a two-man bobsled race was at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
Cory Butner of Yucaipa, Calif., and WCAP Capt. Chris Fogt of Alpine, Utah, had an impressive first run time of 56.45 seconds that placed them in third position. A critical error in one of the uphill sections of the course cost USA-2 an overnight medal position, and the crew finished 11th with a two-run total of 1:53.64. Butner and Fogt are just 0.38 seconds off USA-1's pace, and the medals are still within reach if the team can put together two solid runs Monday night.
"You mess up one thing and it just compounds down the track," Butner said. "It is guesswork. I tried to fix a mistake and then it made it worse. I feel good, and we're not out of the game yet. We're going to come into this tomorrow to throw down and do what we can to get ourselves back in medal position."
The first two runs were especially important for Langton and Fogt, who made their Olympic debuts as members of former WCAP Sgt. John Napier's USA-2 four-man team in Vancouver. USA-2 was one of six teams that crashed in corner 13 on the Whistler course during the first two heats of competition, and they were not able to finish the competition.
New York Army National Guard Sgt. Nick Cunningham, currently attached to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, of Monterey, Calif., and WCAP Sgt. Dallas Robinson of Georgetown, Ky., drove USA-3 to 13th place with runs of 56.73 and 57.07 seconds for an overnight total of 1:53.80.
"I envisioned a different feeling," Cunningham said. "We can't dwell on it. We came in with the mentality to win, but now we need to set new goals for the race. We're going to come out here tomorrow and try to get it done."
Holcomb and Langton were in second place after the first of four runs with a time of 56.34 seconds. Fogt and Butner were in third place with a time of 56.45.
Holcomb and Langton dropped to third place after a run of 56.84 seconds in the second heat. Fogt and Butner dropped to 11th place with second run of 57.11 seconds.
Although their position in the standings was a pleasant surprise after the first run, Butner tried to correct a small mistake on Turn 13, and on the second run, he over-adjusted, dropping the Team USA-2 sled out of the top 10.
"I got greedy and wanted to be perfect," Butner said. "Ended up not fixing it and made it worse."
"We hit again, hit again, and couldn't get it back into control," Butner explained why his sled was bouncing off the walls while exiting Turn 14. "It's guesswork. I'm still a new pilot. We're still trying to figure things out."
Fogt, the brakeman who pushes the sled longest at the start and has less control of the path taken down the mountain, emphasized how important it is to keep the sled off the icy walls.
"When going downhill and you hit a wall, you lose a little bit of time, but gravity is still pulling you down," Fogt said. But at Sanki Sliding Centre, there are three uphill turns. When going uphill and hitting a wall, more time is lost, he explained.
The USA-2 duo's push time left something to be desired at the start, admitted Fogt, who pointed out that he and Butner weigh less than many of the other two-man squads, therefore, weight was added to their sleigh, per rules of the governing body.
"Our sled is probably about 50 pounds heavier than the rest of the field's," Fogt said. That makes it even more difficult to push quickly off the starting block. Regardless, Fogt said it was "awesome" they posted the third-fastest run of the first heat.
"When Cory's on, he's money," Fogt said. "He's won World Cup medals before."
Butner, however, gambled this time on a shaky hand.
"We're the underdogs, so we had to try something," Butner said. "Unfortunately, it backfired."
"Although I had a bad day at the Olympics, America is picking me up, dusting me off, and getting me ready for the final runs of two-man tonight," Cunningham posted Monday on Twitter.
Cunningham and Robinson were not happy with their start times of 4.89 and 4.94 seconds, which ranked 11th and 15th, respectively, among the field of 30 sleds.
"You can never win a race with a push, but you can always lose a race with a push," Cunningham said. "The Olympics are humbling."
With their medal hopes a long shot, Cunningham, Robinson and Fogt said they will be supportive of Holcomb and Langton's medal chances during the second night of the two-day event.
"Holcomb is the best driver in the world," Fogt said of his former two-man partner whom he also will be teamed with aboard USA-1 in the four-man bobsled event later this week. Fogt also said Langton "works harder than anyone else in the sport."
Fogt still believes he and Butner, too, can land atop the podium. He pointed out that positions in bobsled are separated by thousandths of a second.
"With the Army, we have the Warrior Ethos, and one of those things is, 'I will never quit,'" Fogt said. "We've got two more runs, so even though we're not where we want to be, we're going to keep trying. We're never going to give up. We're not out of it yet."
Fogt said the atmosphere at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games is "electric," and added that "the crowds have been great."
Competition continues Monday and the winner will be decided by the team with the lowest cumulative time after four heats.