Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • Park City’s Steven Holcomb hopes several years of bobsled driving experience can make a difference in one night.
Holcomb piloted the USA-1 two-man sled to third place after two runs Sunday night, leaving his team close to second-place Switzerland-1 and a considerable margin behind the leader, Russia-1.
The Russians will be tough to catch, but Holcomb and push athlete Steven Langton like being in medal-winning position with two runs left Monday. The trick is to overcome Holcomb’s lack of familiarity with the Sanki Sliding Center track with his ability to adjust.
“We just don’t know where we’re losing time,” said Holcomb, whose team stood second after the first run. “We don’t know the lines yet. We’ve only been down this track 40-some times. … I’m hoping that I pick it up faster than everybody else. That’s my goal.”
Holcomb guesses Russian driver Alexander Zubkov has made 300-plus trips on this track, and a gold medal is likely out of the USA’s reach with a deficit of 0.36 seconds (Holcomb’s combined time is 1:53.18). But any medal in the two-man competition would be a breakthrough for the Americans, four years after Holcomb drove a four-man sled to the country’s first gold medal since 1948.
The USA-1 sled is only 0.04 seconds behind the Swiss team and is 0 .44 seconds ahead of the fourth-place Canada-3 sled.
“Things can change a lot over the next two runs,” Holcomb said.
The USA-2 sled, pushed by Alpine’s Chris Fogt, made that discovery in only one run Sunday. The Americans, with Cory Butner driving, were third after the opening run. Butner wanted to correct his mistake on the challenging curve 14 that leads into an uphill climb, but hitting the wall slowed down the sled even more. The team fell to 11th place after two runs.
So Fogt was disappointed, even though he contributed to a faster start time on the second run. He was forgiving of Butner, a relatively inexperienced driver. “When he’s on, he’s spot-on,” Fogt said. “He tried something different — unfortunately, tried the wrong way, and some things compounded.”
Fogt is hoping the team can move into the top six or eight places after two more runs. The USA-3 sled, driven by Nick Cunningham, stands 13th among 30 teams.