PARK CITY — Driver Steve Holcomb was feeling pretty good about finishing second in Saturday's FIBT four-man bobsled World Cup until the guys who help him push the sled put the honor in perspective.
"It definitely would have been awesome," he said of the possibility of sweeping both races in this weekend's event at the Utah Olympic Park after he won gold in the two-man race Friday. "That would have been the highlight of the week. But I'll take second place. It's still second in a World Cup race. That's pretty good. Unfortunately I'm the No. 1 loser, but I'll take it. My wonderful friends brought that up to me, 'Hey, you're the No. 1 loser. Good job!'"
What makes the loss a little more palatable is that Holcomb and USA 1 athletes, Justin Olsen, Steven Langton and Curt Tomasevicz, finished just .12 behind four-time Olympian Alexander Zubkov (Russia), who earned the win with a combined time of 1:36.26. Germany's Manuel Machata was third with a time of 1:36.40.
"It was a close, good race — incredibly close," said Holcomb. "I like races that are close like that. It's hard to be upset when you're losing to Zubkov. He's pretty much the only one who has more experience than I do."
The 38-year-old Russian's victory is the first time since 2008-09 that the same pilot earned back-to-back World Cup victories in four-man bobsled. Who was the last driver to do it? Holcomb.
"Bobsledding is all about repetition," said Holcomb, a Park City native. "The more you do it, the better you get, and he's got a lot of experience. He's 38 years old. He's been in this sport a long time. He can focus; he can get in the zone; and he knows what to do. It's hard to beat that."
The times in Saturday's race were about as close as they could get with .06 separating seventh through 11th place. Accordingly, the tight times could favor drivers with more time on the track like Zubkov and Holcomb.
"I think that's good for me because I'm experienced enough that that doesn't bother me," he said. "Whereas a lot of the inexperienced drivers or newer drivers they get kind of caught up in times. ... They kind of panic and overthink things. I think that experience pays off and it's an advantage for me."
A lot of the pressure on drivers like Holcomb and Zubkov, however, is coming from those young, inexperienced drivers. Nick Cunningham piloted USA 2 to a fifth-place finish in just his fourth World Cup race. He and his push crew, which includes Alpine native Chris Fogt, had the fastest push time of the day (4.78 seconds) in their second run, which was just .06 slower than the track record.
"It's nice to kind of make up for yesterday," said Cunningham, who was a push athlete in the 2010 Olympics. "Two man has been a little bit of a struggle. It's nice to kind of come out here and give these guys what they're giving me. They're giving me a top-of-the-world push. It's definitely easy to be at the top when that's where we start off."
Fogt, who spent a year in Iraq after competing as a push athlete for USA 2 in 2010, said he was thrilled the team was performing so well at the start.
"Nick has to focus on the whole run," said Fogt, who, like Cunningham is a member of the Army National Guard. "Us three push athletes, we have six seconds to give everything we have to try and put us in the best possible place at the bottom."
Both Holcomb, a native of Park City, and Fogt were glad to spend a little time at home this week.
"It's great being home," said Fogt, whose three brothers joined Cunningham's parents to cheer for Team USA at Utah Olympic Park. "Up at the start was just unbelievable. I think that's why we pushed so fast."
The athletes head to Whistler, British Columbia, tomorrow, where they will compete on the 2010 Olympic track. It's the same track where Zubkov won a bronze in two-man and then crashed in four-man on his first run.
It's the same track where Holcomb won an Olympic gold medal, in part because of watching film of Zubkov's crash in the curve known as 50-50.
"I love that track," said Holcomb. "It's a technical track, and I like to think I'm a technical driver. It fits my skill set. I look forward to going down that and showing what I've got."
Zubkov acknowledged that each year was becoming more physically demanding for the oldest athlete on the circuit and that the competition was more intense than ever.
"It doesn't matter what country you're in," he said through an interpreter. "You want to perform your best. You can see from the result tonight that every little mistake makes a difference."
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