Steven Holcomb mulled retirement after bobsled setbacks

Steven Holcomb
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Steven Holcomb thought it may have been a sign. Maybe it’s time to pack it up. Find something else to do.

Retire from bobsled.

Holcomb, a 2010 Olympic four-man champion and three-time Olympic medalist driver, lost two of his three push athletes to injuries during recent U.S. national team selection races. He was on the verge of retirement.

Only two men’s sleds are funded by U.S. Bobsled, so any setback in selection races that determine who gets those sleds is crucial.

At age 36, in a sport where Holcomb knows money can be hard to come by, and his last two years plagued by injury, it got the veteran thinking about his future.

“I knew I had a lot of close friends that are retired Olympians, and the most common piece of advice I get is make sure you have something to fall back on, a little bit of financial security when you retire,” Holcomb said in a phone interview last week. “I’m already in debt in this sport. It’s an incredibly expensive sport.”

Holcomb learned push athlete Ryan Bailey, also a 2012 Olympic 100m sprinter, would be unavailable eight days before four-man selection races in Park City, Utah, two weeks ago.

Holcomb had no pool of viable push athletes in Park City from which to choose a replacement, since everybody was already competing in other sleds against Holcomb.

So he called Casey Wickline, a firefighter and national-team push athlete last season who had performed poorly in preseason testing this year and had gone back to his native South Carolina. Wickline agreed to help and was flown in.

Holcomb and push athletes Carlo Valdes, Sam McGuffie and Wickline finished in third place in their four-man selection race on Nov. 2. It was the penultimate selection race.

Codie Bascue had already all but sewn up first place and the first of two funded sleds. To earn that second spot, Holcomb needed to beat fellow Olympian Nick Cunningham in the final selection race Nov. 3.

But Holcomb’s hopes were dealt another blow when McGuffie, a former University of Michigan running back, was ruled out of the last selection race due to a hamstring injury.

Again, Holcomb was scrambling for a replacement, but unlike with Bailey, he had mere hours to find one this time.

Thankfully, former push athlete turned skeleton slider Nic Taylor (husband of two-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor) was in Park City. Taylor would fill McGuffie’s spot in the final race.

With his slapped-together team, Holcomb finished second to Bascue in the last selection race. Cunningham was fourth, putting Holcomb in second place overall and safely into a funded sled.

Now, a healthy Holcomb is preparing for the start of the World Cup season the first weekend of December at the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler, B.C., where he won gold.

The last two seasons have been a struggle for Holcomb — two podiums in 32 World Cup races. His best finish at the 2015 and 2016 World Championships was ninth.

Holcomb earned two bronze medals at the Sochi Olympics despite competing on a partially torn Achilles, which bothered him in the 2014-15 season. Then he tore a quad muscle last December.

“I’m on my way out,” said Holcomb, who stressed that sponsor Under Armour has helped him financially get through non-Olympic years. “I can’t really see myself going for another six years [to the 2022 Olympics]. I’m getting to the point where I’m getting a little old in the sport.”

Holcomb said he will likely compete in his last world championships this season, since there are no worlds in Olympic years. Bobsled and skeleton worlds will be in Sochi in February.

Given Russia’s anti-doping issues, especially at the Sochi Olympics, some skeleton sliders have said they’re considering boycotting worlds.

“We discussed this as a team, we’re up in the air,” Holcomb said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Safety is a concern. What are the chances I go there, and all of a sudden Russian anti-doping tests me, and I [falsely] test positive? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Being outspoken, yeah I’m a little nervous about going there.”

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Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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