Steven Holcomb is no longer the world two-man bobsled champion.
The Park City native finished fourth in the event at the world championships on Sunday, adding to a litany of painful fourth-place finishes on the track at St. Moritz, Switzerland. He had finished fourth in both the two-man and four-man races at the 2007 world championships and at a 2011 World Cup event.
“So much for breaking the fourth-place curse,” he said. “It’s almost comical, because I’ve had four fourth-place finishes on this track. I really wanted to break that trend.”
Alas, he and brakeman Steve Langton could not hold onto third place over the last two of four overall runs, and missed out on the medals by 0.08 seconds by clocking a combined total of 4 minutes, 24.05 seconds. Driving a new sled designed by federation sponsor BMW, they were 1.27 seconds behind winners Francesco Friedrich and Jannis Baecker of Germany - an eternity in the bobsled world.
“I’m not the world champion anymore, or even a medalist, and it’s hard to say that,” Holcomb said. “Langton did his job, I did my job, but it just didn’t happen for us today.”
The 22-year-old Friedrich is the youngest driver ever to win the two-man title, in 4:22.78.
His fellow Germans Thomas Florschuetz and Andreas Bredau - a back-up brakeman who replaced injured Kevin Kuske after the first two runs - overtook Holcomb and Langton by 0.1 seconds on the final run to earn the bronze in 4:23.97.
Switzerland’s Beat Hefti and Thomas Lamparter clocked 4:23.34 for the silver, while American Chris Fogt of Alpine finished a career-best ninth as a brakeman for driver Cory Buntner, who had his fastest run on his final one and clocked 4:24.81 overall.
“This was a good race,” Holcomb said. “That’s why I’m here, because I’m a competitor. But I expect to be that guy in the fourth quarter in the last play of the game that takes the last shot and wins. I expect to perform well and execute properly, and it’s disappointing that I couldn’t pull it off.”
Holcomb still has a shot at defending his world title in the four-man race next weekend, but is coming off two stunningly poor performances in his famous “Night Train” sled.
One of the best bobsled drivers in history, Holcomb finished just 17th at the World Cup stop last weekend in Igls, Austria. He hadn’t finished outside the top 10 in a four-man World Cup race in five years, and the result came a week after finishing in a seventh-place tie in Konigssee, Germany, which itself left Holcomb wondering “what to fix, if I don’t know what’s broken.”
“I’m dumbfounded,” Holcomb said at the time.
Holcomb swept the two-man, four-man and team titles at the world championships last year in Lake Placid, after snapping a 62-year American gold medal drought in the four-man race at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
With Holcomb struggling, Russia’s Alexandr Zubkov is probably the four-man favorite, having won five of the eight World Cup races so far this season — though Germany’s Maximilian Arndt has won two of the last three.
Before Holcomb takes his next shot, fellow Utahn Noelle Pikus-Pace will compete in the women’s skeleton on Thursday, when she hopes to keep cruising after winning gold and silver medals in her last two World Cup races. The 2010 Olympian and former World Cup champion is in her first season after coming back from a 2½-year retirement.
“It feels like everything is coming together,” the Orem native and Eagle Mountain resident said.
Pikus-Pace was key in helping the Americans win the mixed team event in St. Moritz later Sunday, too, by blitzing the field in the women’s skeleton portion of the race. She was 0.84 seconds faster than any other competitor, helping the Americans defend their title by 0.24 seconds over Germany.
In the mixed team event, which is not an Olympic event, athletes race in the men’s and women’s skeleton, the women’s bobsled and the two-man bobsled, with winner determined by the fastest combined time. Holcomb and brakeman Curtis Tomasevicz held the lead the Pikus-Pace had delivered, with skeleton slider John Daly and bobsledders Elana Myers and Lolo Jones — the star-crossed Olympic sprinter — also contributing to the victory.