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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

2018 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships broadcast schedule

Matthew Centrowitz, Jenny Simpson
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NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold combine to air daily live coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships from Thursday through Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Athletes will compete for national titles and spots on the team for the first Athletics World Cup in London next month. More details on Athletics World Cup qualifying here.

While veteran Olympic champions will miss the event, a new generation of sprinters headlines the entry lists. A full competition schedule is here.

Noah Lyles and Michael Norman, who were fourth and fifth in the 2016 Olympic Trials 200m as 18-year-olds, have been the most impressive U.S. male sprinters this season and go head-to-head for the first time in two years.

Sydney McLaughlin, who reached the Rio Olympic 400m hurdles semifinals as a 17-year-old, is entered in the 400m.

Olympic and world champions also scatter the distance races and field events, including Matthew Centrowitz and Jenny Simpson (1500m), Emma Coburn (3000m steeplechase), Christian Taylor (Olympic triple jump champ also entered in the 400m), Tianna Bartoletta and Jeff Henderson (long jump), Jenn Suhr (pole vault) and Michelle Carter and Ryan Crouser (shot put).

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Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 2-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 12:30-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
11 p.m.-1 a.m. NBCSN, Gold
Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC, Gold
Sunday 12:30-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, 5000m, 110m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC, Gold

Allyson Felix among sprinters to miss USATF Outdoor Championships

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Olympic gold medalists Allyson FelixJustin GatlinTori BowieLaShawn MerrittBrianna McNealKerron Clement and Dalilah Muhammad are among the stars not entered in this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

Christian Coleman, who took 100m silver at 2017 Worlds between Gatlin and Usain Bolt, will also miss the event.

Any athlete not on the current entry list will not compete.

Big-name absences aren’t shocking this year given it is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world championships to qualify for at nationals.

Felix, Gatlin, Bowie and Coleman have all dealt with injuries or withdrawn from international meets this spring. Merritt hasn’t raced on the Diamond League circuit this season.

Felix, the American record holder with 25 combined Olympic and world outdoor championships medals, will not race at senior nationals for the first time since 2002, when she was 16 years old.

A new generation of sprinters will headline nationals, including Noah Lyles and Michael Norman in the 200m and Sydney McLaughlin in the 400m. Phyllis Francis, the world 400m champion, is entered in the 200m. Kori Carter, the world 400m hurdles champion, is in the 100m hurdles with world-record holder Kendra Harrison.

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MORE: Usain Bolt’s Olympic spikes stolen