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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.”

Kate Hansen retires from luge, eyes Running of the Bulls

Kate Hansen
AP
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The last luge competition of Kate Hansen‘s career came at the Sochi Olympics. The one before that, she became the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup race in 17 years.

Not a bad way to go out.

Hansen has retired and will not attempt an Olympic encore in two years.

“I won’t go back to [competing in] luge,” Hansen said in a phone interview, coming to a firm decision the last several months. “As much as I miss my team, I miss my people, I miss traveling, I’m just feeling good about where my life’s at. I’m feeling fulfilled in a lot of different ways.”

She may be done speeding down an icy chute at 80 miles per hour, but she’s not done challenging herself. Hansen’s bucket list includes a trip to Pamplona, Spain, next year to participate in the Running of the Bulls.

She placed 10th in Sochi while also gaining fame for her warm-up dance routine while listening to Beyoncé and pranking the world with her wolf-in-the-athletes-village video.

“I never cared if I won or lost; I never cared about racing,” Hansen said. “Results, like they got me through the day-by-day, but my favorite part was being able to travel the world and make best friends all over.”

She’s still involved in the sport. Hansen will be the analyst on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra‘s broadcast of the World Luge Championships on Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. ET.

“It’s really cool to use my craft that I’ve been working on half my life in a setting outside of competition,” Hansen said. “To still be a part of it is really fulfilling.”

Hansen, 23, sat out the last two seasons to concentrate on studying public relations and business at BYU (and backpack around Europe, Ecuador and Peru). She’s one year from her degree.

On March 27, 2014, Hansen was sought out by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ social media while attending a game to perform on their Dance Cam.

One month later, she threw out a ceremonial first pitch at a Dodgers game, met the right people and was offered a job with the club.

“Stars aligned,” Hansen said. “I would’ve never been able to take that job if I had been training.”

Hansen carries a microphone to help with an on-field pre-game show and in-game promotions (as she does at BYU). It helped her re-connect last summer with Jimmy Kimmel, with whom she pulled off the wolf-video prank in Sochi.

She hopes to be offered an ESPN internship for this summer after finding a delicate way to include her viral Sochi fame on her application.

“I embarrassed myself in front of the whole world,” she joked. “I definitely don’t lead with that.”

Hansen is also working on checking items off her bucket list, such as fixing up a motorcycle, reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s five books and wearing hoop earrings.

Hansen and her older sister plan to celebrate their birthdays in 2017 with a trip to Spain. They’re inviting anybody who wants to join them in the Running of the Bulls.

“I feel like after I went to the Olympics, if I have enough confidence, I can do anything,” Hansen said.

MORE: Update on every U.S. Olympic medalist from Sochi, two years from Pyeongchang

Wolfgate 2014

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Two more fencers qualify for U.S. Olympic team

Alexander Massialas
AP
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Nowhere is the U.S. more deep in fencing than in men’s foil, with four of the top 10 in the world.

Two of those four qualified for the Rio Olympics based on rankings updated after a competition last weekend — world No. 1 Alexander Massialas and No. 6 Gerek Meinhardt.

Expect No. 5 Race Imboden and No. 10 Miles Chamley-Watson to join them on the Rio team, qualifying by mid-April. That quartet also made up the 2012 U.S. Olympic men’s foil team.

They are the 19th and 20th members of the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. View the complete roster here.

Imboden and Chamley-Watson are now battling to see who will be the third individual U.S. men’s foil fencer in Rio, with the fourth going to the Games as a possible competitor in the team event only.

Though Imboden is ranked higher internationally, it’s Chamley-Watson who controls his own destiny as he is better-placed in U.S. Fencing rankings that determine the Rio roster.

Since 2014, Massialas, Meinhardt and Imboden have all been ranked No. 1 in the world at one time or another. Chamley-Watson is a former world No. 2 and the only U.S. man to earn a World or Olympic title (2013 Worlds) in any fencing event.

Massialas took silver and Meinhardt bronze at the 2015 World Championships. Imboden reached the round of 16. Chamley-Watson lost in the first round to German Peter Joppich, a four-time World champion.

At the London Olympics, Massialas and Imboden were eliminated in the round of 16 and Chamley-Watson in the round of 32.

Meinhardt, who competed at Beijing 2008 as the youngest U.S. Olympic fencer ever, joined them in the team event, where the U.S. fell in the semifinals and the bronze-medal matchup. All were age 22 and younger at the London Games.

With four of the top 10 in the world, the U.S. could go into Rio as the favorite in the team event, though it fell in the 2015 Worlds quarterfinals to eventual champion Italy.

U.S. women’s sabre fencers Mariel Zagunis and Ibtihaj Muhammad qualified for the Olympics the previous weekend.

VIDEO: Chamley-Watson takes fencing to New York City streets