Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • When his sleek black bobsled finally slid to a stop, Steven Holcomb laid back his head, closed his eyes and blew out a deep breath.
He’d made it.
Just barely, but he made it.
The best American bobsled driver in history won his second bronze medal of the Sochi Olympics on their final day Sunday, losing time all the way down his final run of the four-man race but hanging on to the medal by just 0.03 seconds — less than the time it takes to blink.
"That was huge," Holcomb said. "It was a lot of pressure."
Had the track been much longer, the Park City native would have been watching Russians celebrate the bronze instead, but the finish line arrived just in time to deliver a satisfying finish to his third Olympics.
It was Holcomb’s third Olympic medal following his four-man gold in Vancouver four years ago and his two-man bronze in the two-man race last week — no American driver has more — and it came this time with Alpine’s Chris Fogt joining Curtis Tomasevicz and Steve Langton on the push crew for the "Night Train 2" sled.
Not since the 1952 Oslo Games had an American won a medal in both two-man and four-man races at the same Olympics, making it three times that Holcomb has snapped a 62-year Olympic drought for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
"Three and 62," he said, "I think I need to play those numbers in Vegas."
The medal was especially meaningful for Fogt and Langton, roommates and training partners who crashed out of the four-man race in Vancouver after pushing for driver John Napier. Fogt is a U.S. Army veteran of the war in Iraq whose wife is pregnant with their first child — he plans to return to the Army full-time until 2016 — while Langton won bronze in the two-man race with Holcomb.
"To watch him win, I was obviously very excited for him," Fogt said. "And at the same time I was kind of envious, praying to the good Lord that I would get my chance. … Crossing that line with our coaches and friends there, and the flag waving, was unbelievable."
The Americans never challenged Russia’s Alexander Zubkov for the gold medal — Zubkov also won gold in the two-man — but the bronze behind silver medalist Oscars Melbardis of Latvia felt like a victory given their relative unfamiliarity with the tricky course and the strained calf that Holcomb suffered in the two-man race.
"Obviously, I would prefer to have won gold," Holcomb said. "But I’m happy. We came here to win a medal, and we did that."
After the race, Holcomb revealed that he made a slight equipment change in the front end of his sled before the competition that made it harder to drive but faster, and perhaps made the difference in reaching the podium.
But he never could quite get a great feel for the track that included several unique uphill sections.
The Americans finished 0.39 seconds out of the top spot, in a four-run combined time of 3:40.99, and Holcomb expressed frustration that Zubkov was able to take so many more training runs than drivers from other countries.
"He was here a week leading up the Games, training probably … four to five times a day I’d imagine, as many as he could — testing the equipment, getting the lines down — while everybody’s kind of just sitting back watching him do it," Holcomb said. "It’s kind of frustrating that the sport has come down to that, but … you can’t really fix it. Maybe the FIBT or the IOC could change it. Who knows?"
For Zubkov, though, it was a triumph, winning his second gold at age 39 while prime minister Dimitri Medvedev cheered from the stands. It was Russia’s 33rd medal and 13th gold of the Games, putting it atop the medal table in both categories for the first time since the former Soviet Union did it at the 1988 Calgary Games.
The host nation won just 15 medals and three golds in Vancouver.
"Nobody believed that Russia would even be in the top three in total medals," Zubkov said, "but we have won."
Holcomb and his teammates can say that same, even if they didn’t climb all the way to the top of the podium. They moved up from fourth place in the third heat, then managed to stay in front of Russia’s Alexander Kasjanov, who laid down the fastest time of the final heat, despite a mistake in the fifth curve that had Holcomb bleeding time all the way down.
"When we came out of corner 15, I could see the board and saw green, so I knew we were ahead," Holcomb said. "I thought, ‘Don’t mess up, don’t mess up.’ But I didn’t see the clock when we crossed the finish line, so it wasn’t until we were at the finish dock that I knew we had it."
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