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Associated Press
USA's pilot Steven Holcomb, left, and brakeman Steven Langton react after winning the men's two-man bobsled world championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012.
[Alpine skier Jean-Claude Killy] said, 'To win, you have to risk losing.' And that's what we did. —Steve Holcomb

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — In preparing to do what no other American has ever done, Steve Holcomb took advice from physicist Albert Einstein and alpine skier Jean-Claude Killy.

The result was a gamble that earned him this country's first gold medal in two-man bobsled at the World Championships.

"Americans have always been four-man drivers; we do OK in two-man, but I wanted to do two-man and do it well," said Holcomb, a Park City native who said the difference is akin to "driving a sports car versus a greyhoud bus. They're totally different driving style."

And Holcomb has proven how good he is at driving that "Greyhound bus."

"I'm known for my four-man driving," he said. "There's no doubt about that."

It was in four-man bobsled that he ended some lengthy medal droughts. When he won a world championship in four-man bobsled in 2009, it had been 50 years since a U.S. team earned gold. And then at the 2010 Olympics, he drove the first American four-man bobsled to a gold medal in 62 years.

But what Holcomb really craves is a new challenge. He wanted to be different. He wanted to prove his versatility. He wanted to do what no one else has.

"I don't want to follow the norm," he joked in a telephone interview with the Deseret News.

So he and brakeman Steve Langton, who is the world's fastest pusher currently, decided to take a significant gamble.

First they took two weeks off from competition to concentrate on training in Lake Placid, the site of this weekend's world championship.

They were close, but not where they needed to be so they changed sleds.

"I think it was Albert Einstein who said, 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result'," said Holcomb. "So we decided something had to change."

They switched to the sled Shauna Rohbock used last year.

When considering whether or not it was too risky to switch sleds on the eve of a competition that occurs only once every four years, he turned to Killy.

"He said something that is sort of a motto of mine," said Holcomb. "He said, 'To win, you have to risk losing.' And that's what we did."

It is the first world championship for Langton, who did not push for Holcomb in Vancouver.

"It's going to take a little while to sink in," he said immediately after the race.

It was a double gold medal day for Holcomb as he anchored the U.S. to another victory in the team event.

The team event consists of one heat in four disciplines — men's and women's skeleton, women's bobsled, and men's two-man bobsled. It's one heat and a combined total of all of the team's times.

Team USA-1 also also included bobsledders Elana Meyers and Emily Azevedo, and skeleton sliders Katie Uhlaender and Matt Antoine.

They finished in 3 minutes, 44.98 seconds. That was 0.73 seconds ahead of Germany 1, and 1.3 seconds ahead of third-place Canada 1.

"The Germans dominate," Holcomb said of the team event. The Americans, as one might guess, have never won the competition.

"So to have the Americans win by seven-tenths of a second is pretty amazing," said Holcomb. "We sort of showed the world, 'This is our track; and we're fast."

Three years ago, Holcomb won the two-man bronze and four-man gold at worlds in Lake Placid on his home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

This time, he surged past first-day leader Lyndon Rush of Canada with a near-flawless third run. Holcomb and Langton had a four-run time over two days of 3 minutes, 42.88 seconds, putting them 0.46 seconds ahead of Rush and brakeman Jesse Lumsden.

Maximilian Arndt and Kevin Kuske of Germany took the bronze, 0.55 behind Holcomb. World Cup champion Beat Hefti and Thomas Lamparter of Switzerland were fifth and John Napier and Christopher Fogt sixth for the U.S., which placed all three of its sleds in the top 10. Rookie Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson finished ninth.

"I'm at a loss for words," said Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. "It's been a long time for us. Holcomb's becoming a legend in his own right, and all these teams. It's just been an amazing race."

Contributing: Associated Press, email: adonaldson@desnews.com