Holcomb ended a 50-year drought for the U.S. when he won the four-man title at the 2009 World Championships in Lake Placid, NY. Holcomb and his USA-1 sled of Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz finished ahead of Germany's Andre Lange, the two-time four-man Olympic gold medalist, by nearly a second. "It was huge," Holcomb said. "I knew we couldn't show any leniency, because the other teams didn't last year. I think Lange beat us last year by 15 seconds or something. We needed to show them that we could do it, too. We did, and I can't believe finally after 50 years we got it done." (Lange won four-man by two seconds in 2008.) "The next goal is the gold medal at the Olympics," Holcomb said. The U.S. men last accomplished that feat in 1948.
Primed for victory
The sled Holcomb drove to the world title was a prototype that he didn't intend to race last season. It was finished one day before the World Cup in Park City and sent there unpainted with one coat of black primer. Holcomb drove the sled and "fell in love," deciding that he had to use it for the rest of the season. With only 24 hours before it had to be shipped to Europe, sled technician Bob Cuneo had no time to paint it and instead designed the "Night Train" image. He drew the idea, which came from a Harley Davidson with no chrome called the Night Train, on a napkin. The sled was never painted and still stands out with its dull finish. Holcomb says he won't change a thing.
Holcomb finished second in the four-man event at last season's Whistler World Cup on the Olympic track, which quickly earned a reputation as fast and risky. On the first day of four-man training, only about half of the sleds made it to the bottom without crashing. So many sleds ran into trouble on curve 13 that Holcomb joked with his teammates it should be called curve "50-50." They made a makeshift sign, writing with marker on a brown paper bag, and hung it on the curve. The nickname stuck. "We kind of got to name our own turn, and that was pretty cool," Holcomb says. "Hopefully our legacy will live on forever."
Holcomb suffers from a degenerative eye condition called keratoconus. Prior to the Torino Games, he was, "legally blind without corrective lenses. If I don't wear my contacts, it's comparable to opening your eyes under water." By early 2008, his vision had gotten so bad that contacts were no longer helping, and Holcomb was preparing himself for an early retirement. But he underwent an experimental procedure, having implantable collamer lenses inserted behind each iris, that improved his vision from 20-500 to 20-20. In about 10 minutes, his career was back on track, but a new problem emerged: Holcomb had learned to drive by feel and now was seeing so clearly that he was distracted. "I actually had to kind of unlearn," he says. "I had to take steps to really focus on not looking at the track, focus on the feel, the way the sled moves, how the guys are behind me as opposed to trying to see where I'm going."
A native of Park City, Utah, Holcomb was involved with alpine ski racing for about 10 years before trying out for the national bobsled team. The informational meeting was held in a bar, and Holcomb was too young to get in, so he mailed his information in instead. After making it through the initial "weed out" round in Park City, he was invited to camp in Lake Placid in 1998. Less than a year later, he was competing in his first World Cup event in Calgary. In 2000, he started getting his feet wet as a driver, and after failing to make the Olympic team in 2002, he decided to transition to driving full time. Holcomb was a forerunner at the Salt Lake Games, with Shauna Rohbock as his brakeman, an experience he calls bittersweet.
Skills and thrills
Holcomb calls himself the "computer geek" of the U.S. team. The A+ and Network+ certified technician and Microsoft certified professional often helps his teammates with their computer troubles. He also describes himself as a "thrill seeker." As a child, Holcomb broke his arm jumping on a trampoline, then, the same day he got his cast off, fell off a mailbox and broke it again.
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.