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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.”

Ryan Lochte ‘wipes away the past’ in Power Bar video

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For the second time in as many months, Ryan Lochte stars in a jocular ad making a veiled reference to his Rio Olympic gas-station incident.

The swimmer wipes away “the past” on a foggy bathroom mirror and throws a blond wig out of a sunroof in a one-minute Power Bar video published Tuesday.

The company’s tag line in the video is “Clean Start.”

“For example, I am going to recommit myself to water sports,” Lochte says in the spot.

The ad follows a December video for Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops, where Lochte starred in a spot with a closing banner that read, “Pine Bros.: In this Season of Forgiveness.”

Lochte had previously lost sponsorship deals, including with Speedo, after his Rio Olympic gas-station incident for which he was suspended through June by USA Swimming, plus for the world championships in July.

PHOTOS: Lochte set to be a father

U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

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The stage is set for Nathan Chen in Kansas City this week.

The 17-year-old is arguably the biggest favorite of any senior discipline at the U.S. Championships, looking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966.

Chen, who boasts six quadruple jumps between his two programs, broke out at the Grand Prix Final in December by taking a silver medal. That propelled him to the top of U.S. men’s skating.

He outscored the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final in the best U.S. men’s international performance since Evan Lysacek won Olympic gold in 2010.

Chen’s chances for gold this week were boosted by the withdrawal of 2016 U.S. champion and training partner Adam Rippon due to a broken foot. And by 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown‘s recent right leg injury.

Brown is still in the field, though, as is 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron. Chen, Brown and Aaron are vying for two spots on the team for the world championships in two months in Helsinki.

“Those are the very clear top three,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “It’ll take a disaster or a performance of a lifetime for anybody else to get into that top three.”

Friday
Men’s short program — 8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
Sunday
Men’s free skate — 4-6 p.m., NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule
PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Nathan Chen
Age: 17
Hometown: Salt Lake City
2016 Grand Prix Final silver medalist
2016 U.S. bronze medalist
Two-time U.S. junior and novice champion

Chen came back strong this season following the first major injury of his career suffered at least year’s nationals exhibition. Hip surgery kept Chen from making his world championships debut in 2016, but he’s now poised to lead the U.S. men into Helsinki, trying to earn three Olympic berths. First, Chen goes for his first senior national title.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Nathan is the star of the show this year. The type of talent he has doesn’t come along every day. He possibly could be on the Olympic podium next year with the technical skating he’s giving us. Artistically, his component scores, if you look at him from last nationals to this nationals, he’s a different skater. He may not be [Olympic champion Yuzuru] Hanyu yet, but he has all the makings of a great, artistic male skater. I think he’s already giving us enough, to be honest.

Jason Brown
Age: 22
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2015 U.S. champion
Fourth at 2015 World Championships

Don’t forget that Brown was one spot off the podium at the 2015 Worlds. It’s been mostly a nightmare since for the 2014 Olympic sensation. Brown missed the 2016 U.S. Championships with a back strain and revealed last week that he was off the ice for the last two weeks of December with a stress fracture in his right fibula. Brown is the only man in this week’s field who has been within 40 points of Chen’s best total score this season.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Now that Adam Rippon is out, the artistic challenger, if he can land a quad, is Jason Brown. He’s won the national title before. He knows what it takes and what that kind of pressure feels like. That is an advantage he has over Nathan Chen. If he lands the quad and creates that artistic moment, he is very favored in the U.S. by the judging panel. He will need a quad toe loop if he’s going to hold off Nathan Chen.

Max Aaron
Age: 24
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2013 U.S. champion
2015 Skate America champion

Aaron may be the best pure athlete in the field. He has finished in the top four at nationals each of the last four years, but it’ll probably take top two this week to earn a world championships spot. He’ll likely have to beat the injured Brown.

Johnny Weir’s Take: He has great skating skills. He’s a wonderful athlete. But I don’t think his free program especially is strong enough choreographically to challenge either Nathan Chen or Jason Brown.

Grant Hochstein
Age: 26
Hometown: Artesia, Calif.
Fourth at 2016 U.S. Championships
10th at 2016 World Championships

Hochstein was placed on the 2016 World Championships team after Chen withdrew due to that hip injury. He finished a respectable 10th in his worlds debut but dropped to 11th in each of his fall Grand Prix starts. Hochstein ranks seventh this season among men in the U.S. Championships field.

Tim Dolensky
Age: 24
Hometown: Kennesaw, Ga.
Seventh at 2016 U.S. Championships

Dolensky had his best U.S. Championships finish last season and ranks behind only Chen, Brown, Rippon and Aaron among U.S. skaters’ top scores this season.

Vincent Zhou
Age: 16
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
2013 U.S. junior champion
Fifth at 2016 World Junior Championships

Zhou would be a bigger threat if he hadn’t pulled out of his last event in December with a leg injury. Still, he has the jumping firepower, when he lands them, to contend for the podium when healthy.

MORE: Wagner, Chen share training ice, favorite status at nationals