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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

Steven Holcomb’s Olympic gold-medal teammate has moving tribute

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Steve Mesler shared a four-man bobsled with Steven Holcomb for Olympic and world titles. Their friendship was about much more than medals, as Mesler illustrated in a moving Facebook post Sunday, one day after Holcomb’s death.

“The privilege of having Holcy in my life and climbing the podium with him is an honor I’ll keep close for the rest of my days,” Mesler wrote. “He shaped the kind of person, and leader, I am today. Without him in my life, so much of who I am and what I’ve become would be incredibly different for more reasons than I’m able to list, for more reasons than I can say.”

Like Holcomb, Mesler was a 2002 Olympic alternate. They both made the 2006 Olympic team, Holcomb as a driver and Mesler as a push athlete for Todd Hays.

Mesler joined Holcomb’s crew after Torino and experienced incredible success. Multiple World Cup wins in four straight seasons, a world title in 2009 and an Olympic title in 2010.

“What we did together is something the child in me never would have imagined,” Mesler wrote. “All of us who were lucky enough to compete with him understand what an incredible soul, quiet leader, complicated person and unimaginably talented driver of sleighs he was.”

Mesler also posted his video compliation from 2010 of Holcomb performing his “Holcy Dance” around the world leading up to the Vancouver Olympics.

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MORE: Coroner: Cause of Holcomb’s death unclear

Coroner: Cause of bobsledder Steven Holcomb’s death unclear

Steven Holcomb
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The cause of U.S. Olympic bobsledder Steven Holcomb‘s death will remain unclear until more tests are completed.

An autopsy performed at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, New York, showed that the 37-year-old Holcomb died with fluid in his lungs, Essex County coroner Francis Whitelaw said Sunday. However, that alone was not enough to draw a conclusion as to why Holcomb died – and no determination will come until toxicology tests are completed.

That process can typically take several weeks.

Whitelaw said preliminary toxicology results did not show drugs in Holcomb’s system. Whitelaw also said there is “no suspicion of foul play,” concurring with what USA Bobsled and Skeleton and the U.S. Olympic Committee said shortly after Holcomb’s body was discovered Saturday afternoon in his room at the Olympic Training Center – where many athletes reside when they are training or competing in Lake Placid.

Holcomb was a three-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist, including a four-man gold medal from the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“The world has lost a true national hero, an example to young and old alike about overcoming diversity and a true gentlemen as well as an all-around great man,” former USA Bobsled and Skeleton board member Howard Lowry said in a tribute letter to Holcomb’s family and friends. “Steven’s shoes will forever be too large to fill by those that come after him.”

MORE: Olympians mourn the death of Steven Holcomb

Team officials believe Holcomb died in his sleep.

The grieving process for Holcomb’s friends and family was just getting started Sunday. His parents arrived in Lake Placid from their homes in Colorado and Utah, and some bobsledders and team officials are expected to be there in the coming days.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been revealed. Plans are also underway for memorial services to be held in the coming weeks in both Lake Placid and Holcomb’s hometown of Park City, Utah.

Tributes continued pouring in Sunday from across the Olympic sports world, with American figure skating legend Kristi Yamaguchi, longtime U.S. beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings, British skeleton standout Shelley Rudman and German luge great Felix Loch among those tweeting messages of sorrow and remembrance.

At Sunday’s NASCAR race at Talladega, Alabama someone scrawled “RIP Steven” on the track as a tribute to Holcomb, who was a big racing fan.

“We’ve lost a legend,” said USA Luge’s Erin Hamlin – who, like Holcomb, is a world champion and Olympic medalist.

Holcomb’s success on the sliding tracks across the world was obvious. But he was more revered within the sliding world for his persona off the track; International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation President Ivo Ferriani said he would remember Holcomb for the “politeness and respect” that he showed everyone who was associated with the sport.

“Very sad to hear the terrible news about Steven Holcomb,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said. “He was already a sporting legend. He was hugely appreciated by his fellow competitors and everybody in Olympic sport.”

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