Park City's Steven Holcomb healing for 4-man bobsledding event Saturday
Michael Sohn, Associated Press
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Moments after Steven Holcomb left the track, an incredulous Russian TV reporter couldn't wait to point out something to USA-1's driver.
For a second, Holcomb thought the guy was joking.
"He said, 'You guys are so slow in training, you got no shot this weekend, you have no chance at a medal,'" Holcomb said, laughing about the awkward exchange. "I mean, this is training, nothing happens here."
No, the real racing doesn't begin in four-man bobsled until Saturday, and that's probably a good thing for Holcomb. He's nursing a calf strain sustained while winning bronze earlier this week in two-man, quenching a 62-year Olympic medal drought for the Americans in that event.
Holcomb's focus is now on defending the four-man title he won four years ago in Vancouver, where he tamed Whistler's wicked track and won the U.S. team's first gold medal since 1948.
On Thursday, Holcomb managed to run most of the way down the starting ramp before jumping in his sled ahead of teammates Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt. The powerful U.S. team needed to work on its cadence and timing at the crucial start because it's been nearly a month since their last World Cup competition.
So getting Holcomb on the move was progress after he sat in the front Wednesday during the first two training heats on the Sanki Sliding Center track.
"I was able to take a few steps and load in right at the crest of the hill," Holcomb said. "I was not putting a lot of pressure on my leg, just enough. The best thing to do is stay off it and get treatment."
With Holcomb more of a hindrance than help, the U.S. team's slow starts contributed to them finishing 17th and 16th in Thursday's training runs.
No wonder the Russian reporter was aghast.
Holcomb, though, isn't worried, and joked that his crew's ready for him to get well.
"They're kind of mad at me because they're pushing their guts out," he cracked. "We have a plan and they understand it. We're here to win a medal."
Langton, who won bronze with Holcomb in two-man and was in the gold-medal ride in 2010, said Holcomb's injury isn't slowing the American team down much.
"It's definitely not optimal," he said. "If there's any slack we'll be there to pick it up. But he's a gamer, he'll be the best he can possibly be by race day."
In the past few days, Holcomb has been getting acupuncture, electrical stimulation and massage therapy on his calf. It's working as Holcomb said he's probably "60 percent" healthy, but he's also been approached with other remedies.
"Unfortunately there's a lot of treatments you can do, but most of them are illegal," Holcomb said, smiling. "On race day, your adrenaline is going. You have to do what you have to do. Dig deep, bite my mouthpiece hard and go."
Holcomb's biggest concern might be figuring out how to catch Russia's Alexander Zubkov.
The 39-year-old, winless the past three years on the international circuit, has found a frozen fountain of youth — and speed — on home ice. He won the two-man competition in a wire-to-wire runaway, beating drivers and teams he'd been chasing but not catching before these games.
Zubkov's easy win — he was 0.66 seconds faster than Swiss driver Beat Hefti and 0.88 seconds up on Holcomb — was shocking but explainable in that he's made hundreds more runs on this track. He knows which lines are best going in and out of curves to pick up maximum speed.
Holcomb and others have been studying video of Zubkov's descents, looking for clues.
"He was so fast, and he really hasn't done a lot all season and he comes out and crushes everybody at the Olympics," Holcomb said. "Home-track advantage is huge and he's been down this track more than anybody. So it's going to be a challenge."
Along with Zubkov, Holcomb has found himself trying to keep up with someone unexpected this week: late-night TV talk show host Jimmy Fallon.
During a segment on his "Tonight Show" debut this week, Fallon took a poke at Holcomb's roundly physique naming the bobsledder, "Most Likely to Find an Old Hot Wing in His Pocket."
Holcomb responded on Twitter with a barb, writing, "I'm a little offended (hashtag)jimmyfallon. Seriously, how dare you assume I'm a teriyaki wing guy? I only eat Buffalo style."
Holcomb's response triggered a social-media battle with Fallon fans accusing him of not having a sense of humor.
"A lot of people on Twitter are losing their minds at me and at him," Holcomb said. "Dude, he's a comedian. He makes jokes. Whatever. It's all good. All fun and games."
Except to the Russian TV guy.
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