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‘Our champion’: Bobsledder Steven Holcomb’s life celebrated

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The sympathy cards came from places like Germany and Italy, where Steven Holcomb was their bobsled enemy. Mourners flew in from all across the country. Generations of Olympians packed a ballroom, sharing in grief.

They wept. They hugged. They laughed.

“Steven Holcomb was like no one else,” Olympic teammate Steven Langton said. “He was one of the finest to wear the red, white and blue.”

Sentiments like those came for hours Thursday in the tiny Olympic town of Lake Placid, N.Y., when friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of America’s most successful bobsled driver. The 37-year-old Holcomb was found dead in his sleep Saturday at the Olympic Training Center, the dorm where not only many of his teammates live but where the offices for USA Bobsled and Skeleton are housed.

“Steve was, and always will be, our champion,” said Tony Carlino, who manages the Mount Van Hoevenberg track where Holcomb dominated.

The celebration of Holcomb’s life was supposed to last an hour.

That proved impossible. Put simply, there was much to celebrate — including the 2010 Olympic four-man gold medal, which ended a 62-year drought for the U.S. in bobsled’s signature race, and a pair of bronze medals from the 2014 Sochi Games.

“I have no words to describe my sadness,” said International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation President Ivo Ferriani, who called Holcomb a brother in a recorded message. “The sadness is indescribable. We need to remember Stevie for what he gave to us all. … Stevie, you will stay always with us. I will never forget you, my friend.”

For the public memorial, hundreds of people packed a ballroom at a conference center attached to the same building where Lake Placid’s signature moment — the “Miracle on Ice” from the 1980 Winter Olympics — happened. Photos of Holcomb played on a loop on the electronic message board outside the arena. Local police officers shooed people away from nearby parking meters near the building, saying no one needed to worry about such things on this day.

“Steve’s one of the most passionate, humble souls I’ve ever known,” said a teary USA Bobsled head coach Brian Shimer, who considered Holcomb the younger brother he never had. “He looked you in the eyes. He engaged you. And he did that with every person who was drawn to him by his charm … and by his greatness.”

The public ceremony was preceded by a private, intimate one for family, teammates and close friends atop the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg, not far from the start line and overlooking the magnificent Adirondack Mountains in the distance. His sleds were displayed on either side of the medal podium, the same one he stood atop of plenty of times in his career.

The U.S. flag — the colors he wore as an Eagle Scout, as a member of the Utah Army National Guard, and as a bobsledder — was at half-staff, rippling in the crisp breeze. Speakers read passages from Winnie The Pooh, from Dr. Seuss, from the Bible. They told stories of how he was the ultimate teammate. They told stories of how he was the ultimate jokester.

His mother, Jean Anne, wore Holcomb’s gold medal from the Vancouver Games. His father, Steve, wore one of the bronze medals from the Sochi Games. His sisters both spoke, one of them wearing his other Olympic bronze from Sochi. Many teammates wore or carried “Superman” shirts, like Holcomb used to wear under his speed suit on race days.

“He was a boy when he came here,” said Holcomb’s father, also named Steve, who thanked Lake Placid for playing such a role in his son’s life. “And he was a man when he left.”

USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele has lost count of how many times in recent days he’s been asked about how the team will go on — especially with the Pyeongchang Winter Games looming in nine months — without Holcomb.

He doesn’t have an answer laden with specifics yet.

“As tough as it is, we have to,” Steele said, as he struggled to get the words out. “We have to continue his legacy and continue the work that he worked so hard to start. We owe it to him. We will push forward. We will find success again. He’s not the pillar of the organization any longer, but we are where we are because of Steven Holcomb.”

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VIDEO: Holcomb’s winning runs at 2010 Olympics

Norway’s crazy curling pants tapped for third Olympics after close call

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The Pants are on the path to PyeongChang.

Norway’s curling federation named Thomas Ulsrud‘s rink — known for its flashy pants at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games — as its Olympic curling team.

That’s provided Ulsrud and Co. finish in the top four at the European Championships in November.

That shouldn’t be a problem. Ulsrud earned medals at the last 10 European Championships, including making the final eight times.

If Ulsrud’s rink finishes between fifth and seventh place at Europeans, it will have a playoff with the other top Norwegian team for its Olympic spot.

The Olympic announcement was a relief for Ulsrud. The other top Norwegian team — skipped by Steffen Walstad, who is 17 years younger than Ulsrud — played well of late and is immediately behind Ulsrud in worldcurl.com’s standings.

“It must have been a really tuff [sic] choice for our federation as we now for the first time in about 10 years have 2 top teams in Norway,” was posted on Team Ulsrud’s Facebook page.

Earlier this month, Walstad’s rink became the first Norwegian team to make the final of a Grand Slam (one of seven major annual tournaments played in Canada).

What’s more, Walstad beat Ulsrud at last season’s Norwegian Championships, earning the nation’s berth at the world championship.

Walstad struggled at worlds, going 5-6, which marked Norway’s worst record at an Olympics or worlds since 2007. Ulsrud had won world gold in 2014 and silver in 2015.

At the Olympics, Ulsrud was fifth in Sochi and earned silver in Vancouver, where The Pants first gained fame.

From NBC Olympic Research:

Shortly before the Vancouver Games, Norway’s national Olympic committee outfitted Thomas Ulsrud’s squad with rather dull, all-black uniforms for the tournament. Ulsrud’s teammate Christoffer Svae, an enterprising 31-year-old from Oslo, thought the team should be more patriotic and purchased several checkered pairs of pants with the Norwegian colors of red, blue and white. As soon as the Norwegians took the ice for their first game, the pants were an immediate sensation. Most major international news agencies interviewed the team and a Facebook fan page developed nearly half a million followers.

Ulsrud turns 46 next month. In PyeongChang, he will be older than any previous Olympic medal-winning skip.

The Olympic favorite is whichever team emerges from Canada’s Trials or Sweden’s Niklas Edin‘s rink. Three different men skipped Canada to gold at the last three Olympics. Two different men skipped Canada to the last two world titles.

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MORE: U.S. qualifies for Olympics in every curling event

Notable men’s hockey players eligible for PyeongChang Olympics

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With active NHL players, even Alex Ovechkin, set to miss the Olympics, a look at the most recognizable names who could be in PyeongChang …

Russia
Pavel Datsyuk
, Forward
The 39-year-old played at the last four Olympics and was Russia’s captain in Sochi. He’s also a four-time NHL All-Star from his 14 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Datsyuk left for the KHL last season. He could become the third-oldest Russian or Soviet Olympic men’s hockey player after Igor Larionov and Sergei Fedorov, also former Red Wings.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Forward
Like Datsyuk, Kovalchuk eyes his fifth Olympics, which would be a Soviet/Russian hockey record. At age 18 in 2002, he became the youngest Russian or Soviet Olympic men’s hockey player ever. Kovalchuk played 11 NHL seasons and made three All-Star teams. He has been in the KHL since 2013.

Andrei Markov, Defenseman
The most experienced former NHL blueliner eligible for PyeongChang. Markov, 38, made two NHL All-Star teams in 16 years with the Montreal Canadiens before moving to the KHL this year. He played at the last three Olympics for Russia.

Slava Voynov, Defenseman
Another two-time NHL All-Star defenseman. Voynov, 27, made the Sochi Olympic team the same year he won his second Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. In 2015, Voynov spent nearly two months in jail after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge before heading back to Russia and the KHL.

Sergey Mozyakin, Forward
The 36-year-old is the most decorated active skater never to play in the NHL. Mozyakin owns KHL career records in goals and points and, last season, set single-season league records in those categories. Mozyakin has never made an Olympic team, though he has played in several world championships.

Canada
Max Talbot, Forward
Best known for scoring both Pittsburgh Penguins goals to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. Talbot, 33, played for four teams from 2005-2016 before moving to the KHL. He has never made a Canadian team for the Olympics or world championships.

Derek Roy, Forward
A Buffalo Sabres mainstay a decade ago. Roy, now 34, tallied at least 60 points in four straight seasons from 2006-10 and has played in Europe since 2015.

Ben Scrivens, Goalie
All three of Canada’s prospective Olympic goalies have NHL experience, but none more than Scrivens. He played in 144 games from 2011-16 before moving to the KHL. He also split time in net for Canada at the 2014 World Championship.

Cam Barker, Defenseman
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft played with four teams before beginning his KHL stint in 2013.

United States
Ryan Malone, Forward
The only player with Olympic experience to openly express interest in making Team USA. The Vancouver 2010 silver medalist hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015 but unretired this summer. He’s in the Minnesota Wild’s preseason camp but doesn’t expect to make the NHL club. He could use the camp to segue to the American Hockey League, which would make him Olympic eligible.

Troy Terry, Forward
The T.J. Oshie of the 2017 World Junior Championship. Terry went 3-for-3 in shootout attempts to lead the U.S. past Russia in the semifinals, then scored the only shootout goal of either nation in the final against Canada. Three months later, Terry helped the University of Denver to an NCAA title. Going into his junior NCAA season.

Chris Bourque, Forward
The son of Hall of Famer and Canadian Olympic defenseman Ray Bourque. Turned pro after one season at Boston University in 2005. Led all skaters with seven goals at the 2006 World Junior Championship, a tournament that included Evgeni MalkinJonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel. Bourque has played 51 games in the NHL but has spent the majority of his career in the AHL. The AHL’s active career leader in points is currently in the Washington Capitals’ training camp but is on an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears.

Nathan Gerbe, Forward
The diminutive 30-year-old played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Ryan Zapolski, Goalie
A journeyman with experience in the ECHL, the Finnish League and the KHL last season. Currently ranks second in the KHL in goals-against average (1.48 with a 6-1 record for Jokerit in Helsinki).

Sweden
Viktor Fasth, Goalie
Split time in the Anaheim Ducks’ net in 2012-13, then was Scrivens’ backup in Edmonton two seasons later before joining the KHL. Fasth, 35, was Sweden’s No. 1 at the 2017 World Championship until New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist joined the team and backstopped it to gold.

Jonas Gustavsson, Goalie
The only netminder other than Lundqvist to play for Sweden at either of the last two Olympics. The 32-year-old hasn’t been on the Swedish team at any world championship this Olympic cycle. His NHL ice time steadily decreased from 2012 until his last AHL demotion in January. Played 179 games among the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers from 2009 through 2017. Back in the Swedish League for the first time since 2009, when he earned MVP and a championship.

Joakim Lindström, Forward
Reigning Swedish League MVP. Lindström, 33, led the league in points in his return after stints in the NHL and KHL. He’s never made Sweden’s Olympic team but did play in the 2014 and 2015 World Championships.

Joel Lundqvist, Forward
Identical twin brother of the New York Rangers goalie. The 35-year-old captained Sweden to the world title in May — his third gold — but has never made an Olympic team. He played for the Dallas Stars from 2006-09 before moving back to the Swedish League.

Viktor Stalberg, Forward
Spent parts or all of the last eight seasons in the NHL before joining the Swiss League this summer. One of the most notable omissions from Sweden’s Sochi Olympic team.

Finland
Sami Lepistö, Defenseman
On Finland’s Olympic bronze-medal-winning teams in 2010 and 2014. Spent parts of five seasons in the NHL, the last in 2011-12 before signing in the KHL.

Mikko Koskinen, Goalie
Started four games for the New York Islanders in February 2011. Now in his fifth KHL season. Never saw much time internationally behind the likes of Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne until the 2016 World Championship. He was named the tournament’s top goalie with a 1.13 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, anchoring Finland to a silver medal.

Otto Koivula, Forward
The Finnish League Rookie of the Year turned 19 years old on Sept. 1. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Islanders last year.

Czech Republic
Jaromír Jágr, Forward
It was thought Sochi would be the final Olympics for Jagr, the last link to the Czech Republic’s gold-medal-winning team at the first Winter Games with NHL participation in 1998. But he’s still going at 45 years old. He played full NHL seasons the last five years but is currently unsigned.

Martin Erat, Forward
Three-time Olympian who spent 13 seasons in the NHL, leading the Nashville Predators in points in 2011-12. Erat, 36, played last season in the KHL and is now in the Czech League.

Milan Michálek, Forward
A 2012 NHL All-Star who played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. He led the Ottawa Senators with 35 goals in 2011-12. The 32-year-old was demoted to the AHL last October and is currently a free agent.

Slovakia
Andrej Meszároš, Defenseman
Three-time Olympian with 10 seasons of NHL experience. The 31-year-old is in his third season in the KHL.

Switzerland
Jonas Hiller, Goalie
The Swiss No. 1 at the last two Olympics, when he played for the Anaheim Ducks. Famously stopped 44 of 47 Canadian shots in a near upset in group play at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Hiller, now 35, moved back to the Swiss League last year but was not the primary goalie for Switzerland at the world championship in May.

Germany
Christian Ehrhoff, Defenseman
Played his first Olympics in 2002 at age 19, then played in the NHL from 2003-2016 while rejoining Germany for the Olympics in 2006 and 2010. The Germans didn’t qualify for Sochi but came back to nab one of the last spots in the PyeongChang field. In his second season back in the German League.

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