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Holcomb leads team USA in Olympic bobsled event tonight

By Tim Hipps
U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command

WHISTLER, British Columbia, (2/23/10) - After finishing sixth in the two-man Olympic bobsled competition Feb. 21, former Army World Class Athlete Program bobsled driver Steven Holcomb said he looks forward to the upcoming four-man event and ending the U.S. drought of 62 years with no gold.

Holcomb was in fourth place after the first two of four heats Feb. 20 in the Olympic two-man bobsled competition. He teamed that night with Curt Tomasevicz for a two-run cumulative time of 1 minute, 43.93 seconds, just .62 seconds off the pace set by reigning Olympic champions Andre Lange and Kevin Kusge in Germany-1, who took the gold medal.

The Germany-2 duo of Thomas Florschuetz and Richard Adjei won the silver medal in the two-man bobsled event. The Russia-1 sled manned by Alexandr Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda took the bronze.

"We're medal hopefuls," said Holcomb, who spent eight years in the World Class Athlete Program. "We're just going to go out there and do the best we can."

The Olympic four-man bobsled event begins Feb. 26. Holcomb is the 2008-2009 World Cup champion pilot in the four-man event.

Holcomb and Tomasevicz began their 2010 Olympic journey by bursting off the start in 4.79 seconds, the fifth-fastest of the first heat, despite having trouble getting off the block.

"I was a little disappointed in the first run only because the sled popped out of the groove," Tomasevicz said. "But the time wasn't bad compared to the rest of the field."

The "Night Hawk" team gained momentum, clocking the fastest split times down the challenging course before Holcomb had trouble navigating Corner 12. The duo was on the verge of rolling, but Holcomb regained control and led his sled to the finish in 51.89 seconds, putting USA I in sixth position after the first heat.

"We were to a point where the alarms were going off in my head," Holcomb said. "Fortunately, we made it, but anything can happen. I named that curve, so it almost came back to bite me, but that is part of the sport."

Curve 13 is known as the "50/50," a reference Team USA athletes make to the probability of pilots making it through the corner without turning their sleds.

Team USA I posted a start time of 4.82 seconds in the second heat before twisting and turning its way down the 16-curve course to the finish in 52.04 seconds. Holcomb and Tomasevicz clocked a two-run total of 1:43.93, just 0.12 seconds from the Olympic podium, in fourth position.

"There's a different energy in the air," Holcomb said. "It's kind of a different feeling, but at the same time we're just doing the best we can out here. But you've got to know that everybody's giving 100 percent, so you can't expect to be a decorated slider and just go through. You need to fight for every spot you can."

Sgt. John Napier of the Vermont National Guard teamed with Steve Langton of Melrose, Mass., in USA II to finish 11th after the first day of competition, with a combined time of 1:44.73. They powered off the block with identical start times of 4.89 seconds for runs of 52.28 and 52.45 seconds.

"There's so much excitement and anxiety out here," Napier said. "The first run didn't really take a hold of me. I didn't expect it. There's no way to prepare for the Olympics and the atmosphere here. There are so many people, so many fans, a million people watching. There's no way to prepare for that or no words to describe this environment right now and how I'm feeling.

"The second run, I said, 'Hey, it's just another bobsled run.' I push hard, I go down, and I get to the finish line. We drove a lot better," Napier said of his best run of the week that featured six practice runs on the fastest bobsled track in the world.

Napier comes from a family of bobsledders and began driving when he was 8 years old, while Langton hails from a track-and-field background and was recruited into the sport only two years ago.

"I got a little nervous and made a few mistakes, but hopefully tomorrow I can make improvements," said Napier, who is competing in his first Olympics. "This track is very tough and very technical, but I didn't grow up on a kinder-bobbing easy track, I grew up on a difficult track - Lake Placid, N.Y., where I learned how to drive. I just love the toughness; I love the speed. Give me more speed tomorrow."

Napier also is ecstatic about representing troops worldwide at the XXI Olympic Winter Games.

"I got an e-mail yesterday from a troop I didn't know and I've never met in my life," Napier said. "He said, 'Hey, I just want to commend you on what you're doing. I notice you're an athlete, you're an Army athlete, and you're a Christian athlete."

The troop, Napier said, noted that he was out of the Army now, having been injured by an improvised explosive device during military duty.

"The only way I can lose," Napier said, "is if I don't try my hardest ... and I'm going to represent the Army for that soldier and many other soldiers overseas right now."

Army National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program bobsled driver Mike Kohn of Chantilly, Va., and Nick Cunningham of Monterey, Calif., are in 12th place with a cumulative time of 1:45.18.

"I think we caught about three people, and that was pretty cool," Kohn said. "We've just got about 11 more to catch tomorrow, so that would be nice. I wish I had more training time, but it is what it is. I've just got to get video tonight and start to figure things out and do the best we can with what we've got."

Kohn, a 2002 Olympic bronze medalist, teamed with first-time Olympian Cunningham for push times of 4.91 seconds. Kohn navigated his BoDyn sled to the finish in 52.47 and 52.71 seconds.

Cunningham was announced as Kohn's two-man partner Feb. 18, following the first day of official training.

"I have to thank USA 1, 2 and 3, and even the guys who didn't make this team," Cunningham said. "I'm out there representing everybody. I'm kind of the little guy, but I couldn't be there without them. Coming from an alternate position and kind of learning the ropes so quickly, it's absolutely a dream come true."

The first heat of the four-man bobsled event is scheduled for 4 p.m. PST, Feb. 26.