U.S. bobsledder Steven Holcomb isn’t ready to say he wants Sochi Olympic medals redistributed after Thursday’s report of Russian gold medalists doping.
Holcomb-driven sleds took bronze medals in the two- and four-man at the 2014 Winter Games. Those events were both won by sleds driven by Alexander Zubkov, one of four Russian gold medalists from Sochi reported Thursday as being part of a state-run doping program leading up to the Winter Games.
“It’s really hard to say,” Holcomb said Thursday night when asked if he thought he deserved to be upgraded to silver. “I know Zubkov. I would like to say that I’m actually friends with Zubkov. … He’s helped me out. I’ve helped him. … I’d like to think that he is an honorable guy.”
That said, Holcomb had heard and read previously about doping in bobsled.
“I’m definitely suspicious,” said Holcomb, who in 2010 piloted a four-man crew that ended a 62-year U.S. Olympic gold-medal drought in men’s bobsled. “I kid you not, I’ve had this conversation with Russian [bobsled] pushers, multiple times, about what constitutes cheating. And they said, well, you should be able to take anything, any sort of steroid, performance-enhancing drug, any time. Just not on race day.”
Those memories re-emerged when he read the report Thursday afternoon.
“It’s been hard to swallow,” he said. “I guess I kind of think it’s been a very good day, but at the same time it’s hard to know that you’ve been doing this for so long and working so hard and you end up being cheated in the end.”
Zubkov’s victories at the Olympics were partially attributed to his experience on the Sochi track. Being a Russian, he had the home advantage of many more training runs at the Sanki Sliding Center, reportedly as much as 10 times as many as Holcomb, going into the Winter Games.
Holcomb stuck to that contention Thursday, even though the use of performance-enhancing drugs could impact the all-important start times pushing the sled at the top of the track.
“You could see that he knew [driving] tricks about the track that you just couldn’t figure out,” Holcomb said.
Zubkov called Thursday’s report “baseless libel” on Russian TV, according to The Associated Press.
Holcomb, who is still driving, and Zubkov, who retired after the Sochi Olympics, have not spoken since the Winter Games. Holcomb would reach out to Zubkov but doesn’t have his contact information.
“I would like to ask him, ‘Hey, what’s up? Talk to me,'” Holcomb said. “Not to admit you’re guilty or not guilty, but just talk to me. Like I said, I’ve known the guy for a long time. For six months a year, we spend four or five hours a day together [in the World Cup season]. It’s a lot of time. It becomes a brotherhood, a family.”
Holcomb instead spent Thursday evening talking to a doping-control officer in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he is doing offseason training.
Holcomb was undergoing a random, out-of-competition drug test while watching the below NBC Nightly News report on the doping news, for which he was interviewed.
“It sounds crazy, but it actually happened,” said Holcomb, who was not allowed the use of a cell phone while being drug tested and thus couldn’t document the twist of fate. “If I could take a picture, I would have.”