Holcomb makes history again, this time battling through a calf injury to earn America's first two-man Olympic medal in 62 years

Published: Monday, Feb. 17 2014 5:20 p.m. MST

The team from the United States USA-1, piloted by Steven Holcomb and brakeman Steven Langton, celebrate their bronze medal win after the men's two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Dita Alangkara, AP

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — If the best American pilot hoped to win the first Olympic medal in two-man bobsled for the U.S. in 62 years, everything had to be perfect.

At least that’s what head bobsled coach Brian Shimer thought before he watched Park City’s Steve Holcomb battle through a leg injury to win bronze with brakeman Steve Langton on one of the world’s most technical tracks.

“A bronze may seem like a step down from what we were expecting, obviously, but with the challenges we had … it’s a great, great ending for it,” said an emotional Shimer. “I didn’t think it was going to be a possibility if there were any setbacks. And then it happened on the second heat. I thought, to be honest, there was no way we were going to be able to give up anything at the start and stay in the medals here. … These guys dug down deep. It was a total team effort.”

It was a moment heavily anticipated by everyone in the program but most acutely by the athletes. As Holcomb’s final run approached, the other drivers and push athletes, technicians and coaches made their way to the finish area so they could watch him make history.

“Who better to win a medal than Holcomb, a guy that’s elevated the entire program from Vancouver over the past four years?” said pilot of USA 3 Nick Cunningham, who teamed up with Dallas Robinson to finish 13th. “This year he’s had a great, great season. He’s a guy who’s been a mentor to me, a guy who’s always been there. … To have him go out there and win, it’s huge. It elevates everybody. It motivates us.”

Cunningham was among the first to congratulate Holcomb and Langton as they took over the lead with two sleds to go to ensure themselves a medal. The gold medalist was Russian legend Alexander Zubkov, who came out of retirement to compete at these games because they were in his country. The 39-year-old hadn’t won a two-man competition in 25 tries. But Zubkov has the advantage of nearly 10 times the runs on the Sanki track, and it showed as he continually built a lead, finishing in 3:45.39.

The silver medal went to Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann, who finished in 3:46.05. Holcomb and Langton earned bronze by the narrowest of margins, edging Russia’s second sled by three-hundredths of a second. USA 2 driver Cory Butner and his brakeman, Chris Fogt, Alpine, finished 12th after a costly mistake in the second run dropped them from third to 11th place.

“It’s overwhelming,” Holcomb said of ending America’s 62-year Olympic medal drought — for the second time. In 2010, he won the first Olympic gold medal in four-man bobsled in 62 years. “This is my second 62-year drought, which is awesome. If anybody else has a 62-year drought they need to break, let me know. I’ll try to help you out.”

For Langton, it was his first Olympic medal.

“To be a part of history, I mean, that’s incredible,” said Langton, 30. “To be completely honest, coming into this, I didn’t even think about this. I just focused on the goal at hand and that was to walk away with a medal. In retrospect, it’s a pretty amazing thing that Holcomb and I were able to do that. It’s a medal for us, but also everyone who supported us and helped us get to this point.”

Shimer said they tried to keep Holcomb’s injury a secret so other drivers “wouldn’t smell blood in the water.”

But word got out, likely because Holcomb had a bit of a limp. He received various medical treatments throughout the night and Monday, and they came up with a plan to accommodate his strained calf.

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