PARK CITY, Utah - Alexander Zubkov put together two solid runs Saturday to win the World Cup four-man bobsled event, depriving Park City native Steven Holcomb of a gold-medal sweep on his home course.
"It's hard to be upset when you're losing to Zubkov," Holcomb said about the four-time Olympian who's gunning for gold in his homeland at the 2014 Sochi Games. "He's pretty much the only one who has more experience than I do."
Holcomb won gold in two-man bobsled Friday - his second consecutive World Cup win in that event this season.
USA 1 pilot Steven Holcomb and pushers Justin Olsen and Steven Langton climb into the sled during the four-man World Cup competition Saturday in Park City, Utah. The team honored Forrest “Dew Drop” Morgan with stickers on their helmets. The U.S. two-man team and Kailie Humphries’ Canadian sled also remembered Morgan with similar stickers. Morgan, a bobsled national champion and coach from Saranac Lake, died Nov. 10.
(AP Photo — Rick Bowmer)
Like a week ago in Lake Placid, he couldn't catch Zubkov, who now has won four-man gold in back-to-back World Cups - the first to accomplish the feat since Holcomb in 2007-08.
The 38-year-old Russian called Saturday's win "satisfying."
He credits his fast start to a change in coaches in June as he switched to Canadian Pierre Lueders, the 1998 Olympic two-man champion who retired after the 2010 Games. He said Lueders is a perfectionist who has helped him apply technical research to improve.
It's certainly showing in Zubkov's results as he builds momentum toward Sochi.
Zubkov and his team of Alexey Negodaylo, Dmitry Trunenkov and Maxim Mokrousov finished two runs down the Utah Olympic Park course in 1 minute, 36.26 seconds combined, 0.12 seconds faster than Holcomb's team (1:36.38). The German team driven by Manuel Machata took bronze (1:36.40).
Zubkov led by .09 after the first run and held a perfect line in the second.
"Bobsledding is all about repetition; the more you do it, the better you get," Holcomb said. "He's got a lot of experience. He's 38 years old. He's been in this sport a long time. He can focus, get in a groove. He knows what to do. It's hard to beat that.
"Certain sleds you can watch and say, 'Oh, I'm going to beat him, he's going to choke.' Unless he makes a huge mistake, he's not going to lose time."
Holcomb said he was happy to hold onto second, even if friends are now jokingly calling him the No. 1 loser, a tag that made the Park City native laugh.
It was an emotional week for the 32-year-old reigning Olympic champion, who on Friday talked publicly for the first time about a 2007 failed suicide attempt - a dark secret Holcomb revealed in his recently released book.
Holcomb said that incident made him want to make the most of second chances, and he has, winning four-man gold in his "Night Train" sled at the 2010 Olympics, then claiming the 2012 world championship in both two -and four-man.
The ultimate goal is gold in Sochi in 2014, where Zubkov should have a distinct advantage. Zubkov acknowledges as much, saying he will get in between 500 and 600 runs on the new course by the time the Games arrive. Holcomb figures he'll make several dozen.
"He'll get in a lot of runs, have a lot of experience and it will be tough to beat, but at the same time, we only had 40 runs in Canada and the Canadians had quite a few and we still beat them," Holcomb said.
Canada is where the World Cup heads next, with competition on the same Whistler track where Holcomb and his team won gold in 2010.
He won't be switching out two-man sleds, which presented a challenge for him Friday to Saturday because of the different steering.
"Whistler is such a technical track, you can't be second-guessing your driving skills there," Holcomb said.
And he'll still have to contend with Zubkov, and the powerful Germans, who also had a sled finish fourth and 13th Saturday.
"The Germans will be in there, no doubt," Holcomb said. "They may not look like they're doing well right now but they're going to come. It will be a good fight (toward) Sochi."
Zubkov expects as much.
With Olympic silver and bronze, only one item is missing from his resume: Olympic gold.
"We still have one year," Zubkov said through an interpreter. "Each country likes to perform well at home."