LAKE PLACID - The track in Lake Placid might as well be called Steven Holcomb's track.
On Sunday, the Park City, Utah native made it a sweep of bobsled gold as he piloted USA 1 to victory in the four-man race in the finale of the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships.
The gold was the third for Holcomb in as many races during the championships at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Prior to Sunday's triumph, he won the two-man race on Feb. 19 and followed up later that day by helping the United States claim first place in the team competition.
Steven Holcomb, along with crew of Justin Olsen, Steve Langton and Curtis Tomasevicz celebrate in their USA 1 sled, dubbed the Night Train, as they slide up the finish ramp Sunday on the final run to clinch the four-man victory in the 2012 FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Driving the Night Train, Holcomb and his crew of Justin Olsen, Steve Langton and Curtis Tomasevicz posted a four-run total of 3 minutes, 36.83 seconds during the two-day race to cruise to a half-second victory over runner-up Germany 1.
Following Saturday's opening run, Holcomb stood in second place behind Germany 1 - driven by Maximilian Arndt - but took over the lead on the second heat and nailed down the win by posting the fastest finish times in each of Sunday's runs.
The victory gave Holcomb four monumental victories on bobsledding's biggest stage since he broke a 50-year U.S. gold medal drought at the 2009 World Championships in the four-man when the event was last staged in Lake Placid. A year later, Holcomb and the Night Train won the gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Games to break a 62-year Olympic four-man winless streak for the Americans. Last week, his two-man triumph was the first at the World Championships in U.S. men's bobsledding history.
"You just go out there and give it your best, do what you can and hope it all comes together, and it has for the past few years" Holcomb said. "We're really clicking right now. Winning the big races, it's always what you shoot for.
"It's great to slide on your home track. I've been down this track a million times," Holcomb added. "You get great fan support. In Europe, when you cross the finish line, they'll still clap for you, but it's not like this."
The crew of the Germany 2 sled, piloted by defending World Champion Manual Machata, claimed third place to give their nation two podium positions. They finished with a four-run total of 3:37.33, which was eight-tenths of a second behind USA 1. Fourth place went to Edwin Van Calkler of Netherlands and his crew, and Alexandr Zubkov piloted Russia 1 into fifth place.
The Night Train crew had the fastest starts in each of the four runs, and after posting the second-fastest finish time in the first heat, they were the quickest sled down the mile-long track in the final three runs. Their finish times of 53.92 and 53.99 seconds on Sunday, in crisp conditions and under bright-blue skies, were the only sub 54-second runs of the competition.
Langton, who replaced the retired Steve Mesler on the Night Train, walked away with two gold medals at the World Championships. The five-year veteran of the U.S. bobsled team pushed for Holcomb a week ago in their winning two-man performance and joined the remaining trio of defending four-man Olympic gold medal winners in their slide to victory over the weekend. After competing in snowy conditions Saturday, Langton was all smiles at the finish ramp on Sunday afternoon.
"It was just fantastic weather for bobsled today. It was a perfect day," Langton said. "When you have two runs in the 53s, it couldn't be any better.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity to slide with Steve, Justin and Curt; those guys are unbelievable," Langton added. "But we have great coaches and a great support staff behind us, too. They gave us the tools to do this."
The U.S. started the four-man competition with three sleds entered, and Lake Placid resident John Napier suffered his second heart break in two years on the big stage. The talented USA 2 pilot was knocked out of the 2010 Olympic race when he crashed on his second run, and misfortune struck again on Saturday. Napier and his crew of Charles Berkeley, Adam Clark and Chris Fogt were in eighth place following the first run after they got down the track in 54.75 seconds and were looking to climb in the standings. But as they were loading on the next run, Clark slipped and was unable to get in the sled, which led to a disqualification.
In a show of team unity, Napier offered his runners to rookie pilot Nick Cunningham for Sunday's third and fourth runs. A push athlete at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Cunningham, who calls Monterey, Calif. home, finished in a tie for 13th place to end his first season on bobsledding's highest level. Cunningham and his crew of Jesse Beckom, Johnny Quinn and Dallas Robinson put down a four-run total of 3:40.59, which was 2.85 seconds off Holcomb's winning result.
"Words don't really explain the emotion I have when I think about my first World Championships on home ice and seeing our whole team come together," Cunningham said. "I wish we had a couple more runs because we were getting faster."
Racing at home, the United States had impressive success during this year's World Championships, collecting four out of the six gold medals up for grabs and also adding a bronze. In addition to Holcomb's two individual wins and a team victory, Katie Uhlaender slid to the gold medal in women's skeleton and second-year pilot Elana Meyers and push athlete Katie Eberling landed on the podium with a third-place finish in women's bobsled.
"Any time our athletes step up to the start line, they believe they can win," said United States Bobsled and Skeleton Executive Director Darrin Steele. "We struggled on the World Cup, but this is the event we were aiming for. It was a pretty amazing two weeks of racing for the United States."