KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It is easy to lose speed on the Sanki Sliding Center track — and remarkably difficult to find it.
But defending Olympic gold medalist and USA-1 pilot Steve Holcomb is determined to find a way to get faster as he and his crew are in fourth place by one-hundredth of a second after their first two runs Saturday in the four-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Olympics.
“I made a few mistakes in the second run,” said Holcomb, who will have two more runs Sunday to try and medal for the second time in a week. “On the second run, I was a little late getting to the bar, but it was still a great start. We’re not out of it. I think we’re sitting in a good position. An attack from the back — hopefully they won’t see us coming.”
"They" includes legendary Russian bobsled pilot Alexander Zubkov, who leads the competition by just 0.06 seconds. Germany-1 is in second place, while Latvia jumped Holcomb and his crew on the second run to finish the first two rounds in third place.
Holcomb said he planned to study tape to see how the Latvians picked up speed on an unforgiving track that has two uphill sections.
“I’m not sure where the Latvians picked up so much time,’ he said. “I can’t go back and change today, but I can fix tomorrow.”
The Park City native and his push crew — Alpine’s Chris Fogt, Nebraska’s Curt Tomasevicz and Massachusetts' Steve Langton — set a track record on their first run with a start time of 4.75 seconds. The Russians, however, set an overall track record on their first run (54.82 seconds).
"We're focused and serious," Holcomb said. "We have a chance to medal, and that's what we're going to do. We're just one-hundredth out of third place. The Germans know how we perform under pressure and I'm sure they are going to have a hard time sleeping tonight. (The pilot) hasn't been putting down consistent runs, and we're in a good position. I'm confident that we're going to come out tomorrow and put down two great runs."
Fogt said the team was inspired by its quick start.
"That push felt great," Fogt said. "It shows what we're capable of, and we're giving everything we have to fight for the top."
There was a frightening crash on the second run when Canada-3 tipped over on a curve and dragged the athletes, face down, across the ice. The crash tore the track up a bit, but the athletes were all able to walk away — athough they were rubbing their necks and shoulders afterward.
Just a day earlier, Canadian coaches decided to take the three push athletes from Canada-1 and put them in the sled with pilot Justin Kripps, as he had the best training times on the technically challenging track.
USA-2, driven by Nick Cunningham, is in 11th place after the steering mechanism broke on its first run.
“We came here with medal aspirations, but we’re kind of behind the eight ball after the first runs,” Cunningham said. “My D-ring (handle used to steer the bobsled) actually broke in curve seven of the first run. Once we got that fixed it helped my steering and confidence.”
He said the team never completely got comfortable in training with the setup they’re driving. And unfortunately, the Sanki track doesn’t forgive mistakes — even small ones.
“We all have a love-hate relationship with this track,” said Cunningham. “One run you’re blazing fast; the next you’re slow. We’re going to keep doing our best so that we can walk out of here proud. Right now, we’re just pushing for each other, pushing for our country.”
The event's third run starts at 1:30 p.m. Sunday with the final run at 3. The closing ceremony for the 2014 Olympics is scheduled for 8 p.m.
Holcomb said the U.S. teams are conceding nothing, even to Zubkov, who's proved he can drive this track better than anyone.
“They’re sitting in first, but we’re coming after them,” he said. “There are a lot of good teams out here, and I knew it was going to be a battle from the get-go.”
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