Amy Donaldson: Steve Holcomb's real test will be how he responds to bobsled crashes

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5 2014 8:45 p.m. MST

Steven Holcomb of the USA arrives with his team after the 4-Man Bobsled World Cup race in Winterberg, Germany, on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Holcomb's team finished on the 7th place. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Martin Meissner, AP

WINTERBERG, Germany — Every time Steve Holcomb jumps in a bobsled, he wants to win.

That is, after all, how the Park City native amassed 50 medals — half of which are gold.

And this fall, it looked like Holcomb, the reigning Olympic champion, had unlocked some kind of secret formula. He won every World Cup race — both two-man and four-man — in the first half of the season. In seven races, he earned seven gold medals.

His success frustrated and befuddled competitors.

Canadian pilot Lyndon Rush summed it up after Holcomb’s fifth win: “What Holcomb is doing ... it’s embarrassing.” Holcomb never worried about the streak.

While he's always raced to win, he also didn’t expect to be on the top of the podium every time he raced this fall.

“It’s surreal and a little overwhelming,” said Holcomb after his seventh win. In fact, he nearly always pointed out ways he could be better, or brought up details upon which he could improve. His results may have been perfect, but his racing, he reminded everyone, was not.

Even before he left for Germany, Holcomb said he didn’t think his teams would be able to sweep the remaining World Cup races.

“But we’ll do our best,” he said.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” — Abraham Lincoln

While most people expected Holcomb to lose a race at some point, almost no one expected the veteran driver to crash — twice.

After all, the last time he crashed was in the 2009-10 season in Altenberg, Germany. Interestingly, it came during the same season he became the first American in 62 years to win gold in four-man bobsled.

But he crashed the same day, on the same curve, as USA 2 driver Nick Cunningham crashed as the U.S. teams trained for this weekend’s double World Cup. Then he crashed during the actual competition.

Almost anticipating the shock, Holcomb immediately took to Facebook to explain that what happened was unfortunate — but not an omen.

“Don't mistake my crash yesterday as weakness,” Holcomb wrote on his Facebook page. “On the contrary, it shows the commitment, courage, and determination my team has to win. In order to get better and go faster than you ever have before, you must step outside your comfort zone, try things you've never tried, do things you've never done, and see just how far you can push your limits. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Either way, you get back in the sled and go again.”

Holcomb has dealt with much tougher situations than driving a bobsled down a treacherous track. Holcomb, a naturally shy person, shared his story in his autobiography after the 2010 Olympics. The former Alpine skier turned bobsledder nearly went blind because of a degenerative eye disease (keratoconus) and considered retiring in 2007. Instead, struggling with chemical depression and facing the end of his athletic career, he tried to take his own life with an overdose of sleeping pills.

"I had wrapped my entire existence up in the quest to be an Olympic champion, and now, with that opportunity right in front of me, I realized I couldn't reach it because of a crippling, damning disease," he wrote in Chapter 9 of his newly released autobiography, "But Now I See: My journey from blindness to Olympic Glory."

When he woke up the next morning, he took that as a sign that his purpose didn’t begin or end with bobsledding success.

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