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U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts

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U.S. bobsledders took their first track walk of the Olympic season on Wednesday morning, following the winding curves in Lake Placid ahead of next week’s national team selection races.

They did so without Steven Holcomb, the quiet leader of the program who died five months ago.

“I know a lot of people are going to struggle getting on ice,” said Katie Eberling, a recently retired bobsled driver who was closer to Holcomb than anybody else on the team. “No one in the sport right now really knows bobsled without him.”

Katie Uhlaender, a three-time Olympic skeleton slider, said she’s competing this season in memory of Holcomb, a triple Olympic medalist whom she called her best friend.

Uhlaender was the first one to find Holcomb on that awful Saturday morning in May.

“I broke into his room because I knew something was wrong,” a tearful Uhlaender said last week. “He hadn’t talked to me in two days, which was weird, so I broke in.”

Holcomb was found dead in his sleep at age 37 inside his room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.

He had more than the typical dosage of prescription sleeping pills and a blood-alcohol level above the threshold of intoxication in his system, according to a toxicology report.

Nick Cunningham, a two-time Olympic bobsled driver, was Holcomb’s next-door neighbor at the training center. If Holcomb coughed, Cunningham heard it.

Cunningham was in California when he learned of Holcomb’s death.

He and other team members did off-ice training in Calgary in the summer, but Cunningham believed Holcomb’s absence would sink in once they started taking runs down the Lake Placid track.

“The past 10 years in the sport, he’s taken the first trip down the hill,” Cunningham said last week. “I think, what we’re going to do is maybe have a little moment of silence for the first 55 seconds of the day, let the clock run. I think that will be good closure for a lot of athletes.”

Steven Langton was Holcomb’s right-hand man in Sochi, taking bronze medals in the two- and four-man events. It looked like those would be Langton’s final career runs, until he unretired in February.

After Holcomb’s death, Langton was often asked if he was reconsidering coming back now that his pilot was gone.

“I miss him every day,” Langton said. “I think about him every day, but the stuff I’m reminded by is all good stuff. I plan to carry that with me through the season.”

Carlo Valdes, a former UCLA wide receiver, picked up bobsledding after the Sochi Olympics and became a mainstay in Holcomb’s sled over the last three seasons.

Valdes was in the sled for four of Holcomb’s five World Cup podiums last season. No other U.S. driver has made a World Cup podium since December 2014.

Next week, Valdes will push for first-time Olympic hopeful Codie Bascue in the national team selection races.

“A lot of us made our peace, but at the same time it’s going to be a lot different this year,” Valdes said. “All of us had to continue on for [Holcomb], and to win multiple medals for him. It’s just a service to him, especially being on his sled for the past few years, you have to continue on, push on to achieve that goal for him. We had a goal, we wanted to win, and that’s still the goal.”

Valdes and others have considered putting decals on sleds with Holcomb’s initials. Or wearing wristbands. It’s likely that somebody will be driving Holcomb’s two-man sled this season.

Nobody has more tangible reminders than Eberling, who keeps a box of memories in her suburban Chicago home.

The eight Chicago Cubs shirts that Holcomb owned (Holcomb is from Utah, but Eberling is a longtime Cubs fan and they attended games together). Mixed CDs that Holcomb made of songs that made him think of Eberling. The podium flowers from one of Holcomb’s bronze medals in Sochi that he gave her.

Eberling and Holcomb accomplished a childhood dream together — beating Super Mario Bros.

They had long conversations in Target’s patio furniture section. They ordered the same breakfast at Lake Placid’s Chair 6 — the Chair Lift with the French toast substituted for sweet potato pancakes.

Eberling, before speaking at both of Holcomb’s memorial services in Lake Placid and Park City, wrote down every memory, read every message between them and looked at every picture from her six years knowing him.

“One day, I told him I was sad because my favorite scent from Bath & Body Works had been discontinued,” she said in her speech at the services. “He got in touch with someone from the company and surprised me with an entire box of it. He told me he didn’t want me to start smelling bad.”

That was Holcomb’s dry humor. Eberling does not want to forget moments like that.

“I want people to remember Steve as more than an incredible bobsled pilot,” she said.

The night Holcomb was named to his third Olympic team in 2014, he did not celebrate. He chose to stay behind and comfort Eberling, who on that same day was left off of it.

“It’s crazy to have so much I want to tell him,” Eberling said on the phone last week, before pausing to collect her next thought. “The hardest part that I want to sink in is that I’m not going to see him again.”

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MORE: Eberling at peace with bobsled retirement

Olympic ski cross champion suffers serious knee injury

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Canadian Marielle Thompson, the reigning Olympic and World Cup ski cross champion, ruptured an ACL and MCL in a training crash in Switzerland.

Alpine Canada did not say when the accident happened or what Thompson’s chances are of returning to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Thompson flew from Switzerland to Vancouver for an MRI that confirmed the injury.

“I’ll be making a plan with my team moving forward and when the time is right getting back on the ski cross course stronger than ever,” Thompson said in a press release.

Thompson, 25, tore a meniscus in January 2015 and returned to competition 11 months later. She won seven of the 13 World Cup races last season.

Other Olympic medal contenders include Swede Sandra Näslund and Swiss Fanny Smith.

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Nathan Chen leads Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix opener (video)

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen hopes to become comfortable in this spot this season — ahead of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in the standings.

The 18-year-old Chen landed two quadruple jumps in his short program at the opening Grand Prix event in Moscow, taking a 5.69-point lead over Hanyu going into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia topped the women’s short program with 80.75 points (one tenth off her world record).

Full Rostelecom Cup results are here.

Chen’s tally — 100.54 points — is the second-highest short of his flourishing international career. It would have been higher if not for two of his three jumping passes receiving negative grades of execution for wonky landings.

The Japanese megastar Hanyu fell on his final jump, a triple toe loop, on Friday. No matter, Winnie the Pooh bears rained down on the ice from the adoring crowd, many of whom traveled from Japan.

Hanyu scored 94.85 points, one month after breaking his world record short program score with 112.72 points in a small event in Canada.

“Today I made some mistakes in my short program, but overall it didn’t feel bad,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union.

Hanyu, though he is the current PyeongChang favorite, has never won his season-opening Grand Prix event in seven tries.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu, who is four years older, in four of their last eight head-to-head skates.

Hanyu was better in the two biggest programs at last season’s world championships. Chen placed sixth at worlds in April, perhaps gassed at the end of his first senior season while competing on duct-taped skates.

In the women’s standings, Medvedeva topped Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 6.13 points.

American Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel that was called under rotated and fell on her other two jumping passes. She ended up ninth, two spots behind U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

In the short dance, two-time world medalists and U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani tallied 77.30 points.

The siblings lead by .97 over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev going into the free dance.

Russians are one-two in pairs. World bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 5.49.

All of the free skates are Saturday, live on Olympic Channel. A full schedule is here.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men’s Short
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 100.54
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 94.85
3. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.77
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 67.56

Women’s Short
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 80.75
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 74.64
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 69.60
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 63.85
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 56.15

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.30
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 76.33
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 71.32
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 59.41

Pairs Short
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.88
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 71.39
3. Valentina Marchei/Ondřej Hotárek (ITA) — 68.48
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 54.37