Gold? Bronze? Olympic “success” depends on the athlete (among other things)

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Steven Holcomb’s bronze-medal celebration Monday night brought to mind a vivid memory — his gold-medal celebration from four years ago.

“About the same,” Holcomb said of a boisterous fist-pumping, man-hugging reaction. “We didn’t even make it to the finish, and we were getting hounded by our teammates.”

Gold in one event one year. Bronze in another event four years later. The medals were different, but the celebrations were about the same.

Both were incredible achievements by Holcomb, who has now won Olympic and world medals in both the two- and four-man competitions. He is a trailblazer.

VIDEO: Watch Team USA’s bronze-medal run

He’s also a reminder that the definition of success at an Olympics is layered and largely brought on by subjective perception and expectation. The medal standings are growing with importance as the Games go through the final week.

What will make for a “successful” Olympics for the U.S.?

  • Winning more medals than Vancouver, when Americans took 37 of them, the most ever for one nation at a Winter Games?
  • Winning the overall medal count for the first time at a non-North American Winter Games?

It’s a nuanced question. First, let’s look at Holcomb.

  • He held onto bronze by .03 of a second after the fourth and final run in teeth-chattering conditions at the Sanki Sliding Center.
  • Holcomb, with brakeman Steve Langton, ended a 62-year U.S. Bobsled drought for the second straight Olympics.
  • In 2010, he became the first American to win four-man gold since 1948.
  • In 2014, he became the first American to win a two-man medal of any color since 1952.
  • Not only is Holcomb the reigning Olympic four-man champion, he also entered these Games as the season-long World Cup champion in the two-man.

“I don’t have any Olympic medals in two-man, so to finally come away with a bronze, I’ll take gold, silver, bronze,” he said. “We were just here to win a medal. I know we were the gold-medal favorites coming in.”

Pause right there. Gold-medal favorites. The Associated Press and Infostrada tapped Holcomb for two-man gold. Sports Illustrated picked him for silver.

WATCH: Holcomb, Langton make U.S. history in bobsled

Olympic medal predictions don’t have high success rates, but Holcomb knew the perception was there that he had a shot at gold.

Holcomb clarified, saying he didn’t consider himself the gold-medal favorite because talented Russian Aleksandr Zubkov had a home-track advantage, enough of an edge to make up for the fact he ranked well behind Holcomb in the World Cup standings.

In bobsled, track experience is critical. Holcomb dominates in places like Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah, where he’s taken more runs than a guy like Zubkov. His success rate outside North America is not as great.

So for Holcomb to win a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics, beating another Russian sled by .03 for that last medal, that’s worthy of celebration.

The 62-year drought? As is equated so often in sports, Holcomb wasn’t around for most of that time. But it speaks to how tough it was for the U.S. to break through in a sport long dominated by European nations.

Perception and reaction has varied across sports and athletes in Sochi. The U.S. speed skaters haven’t performed to expectations. Snowboarders and skiers have surprised.

Shaun White was a gold-medal favorite and finished fourth. Disappointment.

Hannah Kearney was a gold-medal favorite and won bronze, an upset she handled with grace (as did White). Bode Miller looked strong in training and then finished eighth in the downhill. He rebounded and tied for an emotional bronze in the super-G.

If the U.S. women’s hockey team wins silver, you can bet players will shed tears, and they won’t be of joy. How will people react if Ted Ligety wins silver in the giant slalom? If Mikaela Shiffrin wins silver in the slalom? How will Ligety and Shiffrin react?

Then there’s Dutch speed skater Koen Verweij.

The Dutch speed skaters have been seen as the epitome of dominance in Sochi, winning 16 medals. Here’s what their star, Sven Kramer, said Monday about Verweij, who missed gold by .003 of a second in the 1500m.

“What annoys me is that people blame him for not being happy with the silver,” Kramer said. “It’s good that he was unhappy. It’s top sport, and top sport is about winning.”

All medal reactions are not equal.

The U.S. won two medals on Monday to bring its total to 18 for the Olympics. There’s almost no chance it tops the 37 from Vancouver, even with more events at these Olympics than four years ago.

At the same time, it is tied with Russia for the overall medal lead. It is one medal ahead of the Netherlands and three medals ahead of Canada and Norway. The U.S. also could win a medal on every day of the Winter Olympics, which it has never done. (OK, so that’s a novelty stat.)

But with six days left of competition, the U.S. is in the running to win the overall medal count for the first time at a Winter Olympics held outside North America.

What will be a success? It’s hard to say, but Holcomb seemed pretty thrilled to contribute to the U.S. tally Monday night.

“Obviously, everybody here wants to win,” he said. “We’re happy to be in that hunt.”

Noah, Josephus Lyles have unfinished business after record-breaking sprint season

Noah Lyles, Josephus Lyles
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CHARLOTTE — Brothers Noah and Josephus Lyles each hit a milestone in the 200m this past summer. Each has a clear next step in mind.

Noah, the elder at age 25, is (in a change) now talking openly about wanting to break Usain Bolt‘s world record of 19.19 seconds. He will do it if he improves his personal best by a similar amount of time as he did in 2022.

At the world championships in July, Noah prevailed in 19.31 seconds, a personal best by 19 hundredths and an American record. He is now the third-fastest man in history. Bolt’s world record is 12 hundredths of a second away. Eye blinks can be quicker, but it is still a significant gap. Since worlds, Noah repeated a desire to break Bolt’s record.

Noah, speaking before an event for the brothers’ foundation last week, was asked if he had any hesitation about voicing that ambition given there will be doubters. He ruminated.

“There’s like 150 different ways I can go about [answering] this. I’m trying to figure out which one I want to do,” he said. “It kind of really all boils down to: I don’t care what other people think.”

Recall a back-and-forth between Noah and the retired Bolt in 2019. That summer, Noah ran 19.65 at a Diamond League meet in Paris — breaking Bolt’s meet record. In Noah’s Instagram story that day, an image showed him making a shushing motion with the caption, “Bolt who?” That drew a reaction from Bolt. Noah was asked often that summer about Bolt’s world record. Rather than take aim at 19.19, Noah said coyly that he had special things planned.

Noah did not run 19.65 or faster for another two years, until after taking bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. But his 2022 was arguably the deepest 200m season in history. Noah went faster than 19.65 on six occasions. Bolt is the only other man to break 19.65 more than three times over a career, and he never did it more than three times in one year (In his prime, Bolt did not race the 200m as often as Noah did this year).

In summary: Noah is back and better than ever, boosted by a more efficient start out of the blocks and improved mental health, having worked with therapist Diana McNab. Bolt was 23 when he ran 19.19. Michael Johnson was 28 when he ran his personal best of 19.32. Noah turns 26 on July 18, one month before next summer’s world championships in Budapest.

“When you enter a sport, why shouldn’t your dream be to achieve the best that is ever possible?” Noah said. “To anybody who says to themselves, ‘A record is not going to be broken,’ look at all the previous world records. All broken. And even when I get this record, it’s going to be broken. And that’s OK.”

In addition to chasing Bolt in the 200m, Noah plans to reintroduce the 100m into his major event program. He has a bye into the world championships in the 200m, so expect him to run the 100m at next summer’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, where three world spots are at stake.

Noah previously planned to double in the 100m and 200m for the Tokyo Olympics but did not find his rhythm before the Olympic Trials, where he placed seventh in the 100m, one week before making his first Olympic team in the 200m. Only one man has won both the 100m and the 200m at a global championship in the last 15 years: Bolt in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

“We were planning on going after [the double] this year, but just a few complications,” Noah said. “Mostly, [needing to work on] my start was making that very difficult. We decided to focus mainly on the 200m, and I’m glad we did because we were able to accomplish two things — winning the world championship in the 200m again, and then actually getting a better start. So now that I’ve secured both of those things, I now feel I have the freedom to go and try and bring the same success to the 100m.”

Josephus, the younger brother by 369 days, had a breakout 2022 of his own. He went under 20 seconds in the 200m for the first time and, had he not been running into a headwind, would have broken 10 seconds in the 100m for the first time.

Josephus also made his first world championships team, albeit in unusual circumstances. He was fifth in the 200m final at nationals, where the top four earned spots at worlds. Josephus, who had a two-day bout with COVID a week before nationals, left the Hayward Field track believing that he missed the team by six hundredths of a second.

Then he got a call from Noah, who saw Josephus’ name on a board at team processing and told his younger brother to hurry over to get fitted for national team clothes. Turns out, Josephus was named to the 4x100m relay pool, unexpectedly given he didn’t run the 100m at nationals. Micah Williams, who was fourth in the 100m at nationals, was not named to the team (no reason was given).

At worlds, the U.S. ran the same four men in 4x100m qualifying and the final, meaning that Josephus and Kyree King, another relay pool-only runner, didn’t get to race. Josephus left bittersweet.

“All I know is I’m not going to be in the relay pool again [without qualifying in an individual event],” he said. “I’m going to make the team [individually] so I don’t have to worry about that.”

Josephus and Noah traded stories about their seasons after taking an eight-hour road trip from Central Florida to Charlotte, where they lived for five years growing up. They sat for an interview on bleachers inside the Sugaw Creek Recreation Center, where they planned to show off their medals, give away signed spikes and meet and greet more than 200 people, including a question-and-answer session with kids.

The foundation, launched in late 2020, supports kids who want to be involved in track and field.

“We’re still in the early stages,” Noah said.

Next: the brothers go back to their native D.C. area, where they will be inducted into their high school district’s athletics hall of fame next week. Later in October is what Noah calls an “End of Season Bash” in Bermuda. There is plenty to celebrate, and plenty to look forward to.

Before rising from the bleachers, the brothers were asked what will make 2023 a success on the track.

“If I go out there and I have fun, everything else will fall into place,” Josephus said.

“I got a lot of success this year, but I can’t let that overrun everything,” Noah said. “I want to make sure that I use that energy to fuel doing even more into this [next] year. I know if I do that. the world is mine.”

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U.S. women win record 27th consecutive FIBA World Cup game

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SYDNEY — There’s been a long legacy of success for the U.S. women’s basketball team at the World Cup.

The names change over time, but the results don’t seem to.

Kelsey Plum scored 20 points, Chelsea Gray added 16 and the United States routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59 on Tuesday to break the team record for consecutive wins at the World Cup.

The victory was the 27th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The U.S. won 26 in a row from 1994-2006 leading up to that game. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who has been part of the last three World Cup teams. “Obviously, been here for some of it, but you understand the legends before that who really kind of started the streak. It goes to show that no matter who is playing on USA Basketball, we’re always trying to chase excellence.

“This streak doesn’t mean much right now because we’re going into the quarterfinals and focusing on winning a gold medal, but it’s something to kind of hang your hat on later.”

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Stewart and A’ja Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon.

“The players change and, you know, there was a lot of concern about who’s next,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It was a concern when Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie were playing and who was going to be next. Then it was Sue and (Taurasi) and then other great players, too. Now with this group they are saying, hey, we’re pretty good, too.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The U.S. last lost a group play game in 1975, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

“We know the responsibility when you put on this jersey. There’s a lot more than yourself,” Plum said. “Everyone puts pride to the side. We have a common goal. We have some amazing players on this team.”

The Americans (5-0) won their pool games by an average of 46.2 points and never trailed in any of them. Now they play Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. was coming off a record rout of South Korea in which the team broke the World Cup record for points with 145. While the Americans didn’t match that number, they put the game out of reach in the first 10 minutes, going up 33-15.

The lead ballooned to 63-31 at halftime. Bosnia and Herzegovina put together a small run to start the third quarter, but the U.S. scored the final 19 points of the period.

Once again they used a dominant inside performance, outscoring Bosnia and Herzegovina 84-28 in the paint led by Wilson, Stewart and Brionna Jones.

“It’s a huge part of our identity,” Reeve said. “Ninety-whatever we had yesterday and 84 today, we just know what we’re good at and we have players that are really understanding their opportunities for that.”

The U.S. was missing Jewell Loyd, whom the team said was resting. Kahleah Copper started in her place and finished with 11 points.

Nikolina Elez scored 19 points to lead the Bosniaks (0-5), who were playing in their first World Cup.

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