Steven Holcomb’s four-man bronze caps U.S. sliding rise

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Here’s one final Olympic stat: The United States won more medals at Sanki Sliding Center than any other nation.

Steven Holcomb wrapped it up with a bronze in four-man bobsled Sunday afternoon, his second third-place finish at these Olympics.

He was the defending champion, but even Holcomb admitted Russian Aleksandr Zubkov was the bobsled favorite at these Winter Games.

Zubkov delivered his second gold medal, leading after all four runs. Latvian Oskars Melbardis took silver, just missing his nation’s first Winter Olympic gold medal.

Holcomb’s third career Olympic medal gave the U.S. sliding teams – bobsled, luge and skeleton – seven overall. Russia won six. Germany won five.

The U.S. has come a long way, baby. Holcomb knows that well.

In his first Olympics in 2006, he drove USA-2 to 14th in the two-man and then sixth in the four-man on the final day of the Games.

“Slowly but steadily, we’re moving up and going to get there eventually,” Holcomb told the Salt Lake Tribune that Sunday at Cesana Pariol.

The U.S. won one sliding medal eight years ago in Italy, a women’s bobsled silver. Germany won seven.

The Olympic shift began in 2010, when Holcomb drove the Night Train to the first U.S. men’s bobsled gold medal in 62 years. Still, the U.S. won only two sliding medals in Vancouver. Germany had 10.

At Sanki, Holcomb won the first U.S. two-man medal in 62 years. Erin Hamlin won the first U.S. singles luge medal ever, a shocking bronze. Skeleton sliders Noelle Pikus-Pace and Matt Antoine added silver and bronze. Elana Meyers drove USA-1 to silver as well, and Jamie Greubel piloted USA-2 to bronze.

“We’ve caught up, but the catch is we’ve got to keep moving forward,” Holcomb said. “Right now I can guarantee you that the teams that didn’t medal today have already started thinking about what they’re going to do. Right now, to have a medal in every event, that’s huge. That really builds momentum. It’s really brought this sport out in the United States.”

The Stars and Stripes experienced across-the-board sliding sports success for the second time since women’s bobsled was added to the Olympic program and skeleton was re-added in 2002. But those Olympics 12 years ago were on familiar ice in Park City, Utah.

The U.S. really proved its mettle the last few World Cup seasons and the last two weeks.

It showed it could hang with the dominant European nations outside the fertile grounds of Calgary, Alberta, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah.

Germany floundered, winning half the sliding sports medals it did in 2010. It won none in bobsled, a sport it swept the golds in in 2006. Overall, Germany placed sixth in total medals in Sochi after being No. 1 or No. 2 at every Winter Olympics since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What’s changed?

In bobsled, it’s been technology.

Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine founded the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project in 1994, the same year the U.S. was beaten by Jamaica in the Olympic four-man.

It paid golden dividends by 2010 with the Bo-Dyn-made Night Train sled. BMW joined the party to design Holcomb’s two-man sled in Sochi, accompanying a second Night Train.

“Having the support behind us, that’s the hardest part is having that technology and having people want to invest in that,” Holcomb said. “In the United States, everybody wants to play the major pro sports, which is great, but at the same time, nobody wants to get involved in bobsled. There’s not a whole lot of glory, except for every four years. Having that support from both BMW and Bo-Dyn has been phenomenal.”

It’s often said in sports that staying on top can be just as hard or harder than getting there in the first place.

Holcomb doesn’t believe that to be the case here.

“It’s one of those situations where once you kind of get there, you understand it,” said Holcomb, 33, who has said he isn’t sure if he’ll commit all the way to 2018. “You learn how to do it. We know how to win now. We know what it takes. I think we can maintain that.”

Ragan Smith, after watching in Rio, leads P&G Championships

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Ragan Smith could do nothing more than watch in Rio as the Final Five dominated. The roles reversed at the P&G Championships on Friday night.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate, easily topped the all-around standings on the first of two nights of competition that will determine national champions.

Oh, and Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez were among those in the Honda Center crowd in Anaheim.

It’s the beginning of a new era for U.S. women’s gymnastics. None of the Rio Olympians are competing this weekend, but all five could come back for a Tokyo 2020 run.

For now, the spotlight is on Smith.

“It’s kind of nice, like, having a new generation coming up,” Smith, who is coached by 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal Burdette, said on NBCSN. “I think it’s a little less pressure, but I still kind of feel like it’s the same because I had no idea what was going to happen last year.”

The 17-year-old Texan leads by 1.3 points over Riley McCusker going into the final day Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Full scores are here. A four-woman team for October’s world championships will be named after a camp later this summer.

Smith overcame minor flaws on her first routine — uneven bars — and more significant ones on her next — balance beam. A solid floor exercise and vault gave her a first-day lead six tenths shy of Biles’ average margin from 2013 through 2016.

The second- and third-highest scores Friday actually came from the earlier junior division. With no team event at this year’s worlds, senior depth is less necessary.

Smith, after just missing the Rio Olympic team in her first year as a senior gymnast, won the AT&T American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. That made her the favorite this week.

The rest of the field — with no Olympians for the first time since 2008 — could not keep pace Friday. Smith’s top challengers coming in were McCusker and Morgan Hurd.

McCusker, who shares a coach with Hernandez, reeled back some difficulty. She was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July.

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, took two out-of-bounds steps and sat down on back-to-back floor exercise passes.

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Simone Biles says she’s back in the gym (video)

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Simone Biles is back in the gym.

In between giggles, Biles said she returned to the gym two weeks ago in an NBCSN interview at the P&G Championships in Anaheim on Friday night.

“I actually started, like, two Fridays ago,” Biles said. “I’m weak. But I’m coming back. I’m just doing conditioning and basics right now.”

Biles last competed at the Rio Olympics, winning five medals, including four golds, for the greatest single-Games medal haul by a female gymnast in nearly three decades. That came after Biles swept every U.S. and world all-around title in that four-year Olympic cycle.

The 20-year-old said late last year and early this year that she planned to return to training in late 2017 or early 2018 with an eye on Tokyo 2020.

“It’s OK to sit out one [year],” Biles said. “I can’t imagine being out on the floor now.”

Biles has not set a return to competition. Her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, moved from Texas to Florida after Rio.

If Biles makes the Tokyo 2020 team, she can attempt to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since the late Czech Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.

Gabby Douglas attempted this feat in Rio but did not qualify for the all-around final.

Douglas said earlier this month that she has not decided whether she will return to competition.

Aly Raisman said in September that she plans to return to training after taking 2017 off. Laurie Hernandez said she hopes to go for 2020 but has not set a return to training.

Madison Kocian is the lone member of the Olympic team who has competed since Rio, but it wasn’t on the elite stage. The Texan did a full freshman season for UCLA with a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff in her shoulder.

Kocian said in June that she has not decided if she will return to elite gymnastics.

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P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates