Steven Holcomb’s family and teammates set to collect 2014 medals at Team USA Awards

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Two years after his passing, Steven Holcomb remains a beloved figure in the U.S. bobsled community. Tonight in Los Angeles at the Team USA Awards, Holcomb will be honored once again when his team’s silver medals, reallocated after Russian medalists in 2014 were stripped of their medals due to doping offenses, are presented to his teammates and several members of his family.

Holcomb’s journey to Olympic stardom was long and difficult. He was born and raised in Park City, Utah, one of the epicenters of U.S. sliding sports, and just missed out on an opportunity to compete in the 2002 Olympics in his hometown at age 21.

Over the next 15 years, he won six overall World Cup titles and five world championships. He was still a consistent contender in his final season, finishing second in the two-man World Cup standings and third in the four-man.

He was also an inspirational figure in U.S. bobsled and skeleton from the beginning of his career. When he started sliding, his then-girlfriend, Tristan Gale, took up skeleton and won gold in 2002.

His shining moment was in 2010 in Vancouver, when he, Steve Mesler, Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen became the first U.S. bobsledders to win gold in 62 years.

Getting to Vancouver itself was a miracle. He had been diagnosed with an eye problem called keratoconus that was robbing him of his sight. Though he adapted to driving by feel, the condition and the prospect of losing his bobsled career pushed him into depression, and he attempted suicide in 2007.

His vision was restored by eye surgeon Brian Boxer Wachler using a revolutionary technique now named after its most famous patient — Holcomb C3-R. He appeared with Boxer Wachler on the TV show “The Doctors” to talk about how the surgery changed his career and life, and he and Steve Eubanks wrote a book called “But Now I See: My Journey from Blindness to Olympic Gold.”

In the 2014 Olympics, he was on the podium again twice. Steve Langton was with him in the two-man and four-man, while Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt filled out the four-man squad.

Those medals are being exchanged for silver tonight at the Team USA Awards, where his teammates and fellow medalists will be joined by his parents and sisters.

Holcomb passed away in his sleep in May 2017 and was honored in an emotional tribute the next month at Utah Olympic Park.

And he’s still present at Utah Olympic Park in an unusual way. Rails from one of his bobsleds are now door handles at athlete housing.

The awards ceremony will also honor the top male and female Olympic and Paralympic athletes and teams of the year, along with the top national coaches and the winner of the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award.

Award finalists:

Olympic men 

  • Nathan Chen, figure skating
  • Caeleb Dressel, swimming
  • Brady Ellison, archery
  • Vincent Hancock, shooting
  • Noah Lyles, track and field

Olympic women 

  • Simone Biles, gymnastics
  • Adeline Gray, wrestling
  • Simone Manuel, swimming
  • Dalilah Muhammad, track and field
  • Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine skiing

Olympic team 

  • Equestrian jumping
  • Women’s soccer
  • Women’s softball
  • Men’s 4x100m relay, track and field
  • Women’s water polo

Paralympic men 

  • Joe Berenyi, Para-cycling
  • Noah Elliott, Para snowboarding
  • Robert Griswold, Para swimming
  • Daniel Romanchuk, Para track and field
  • Ben Thompson, Para archery

Paralympic women 

  • Kendall Gretsch, Para Nordic skiing and paratriathlon
  • Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para-cycling
  • Allysa Seely, paratriathlon
  • Leanne Smith, Para swimming
  • Deja Young, Para track and field

Paralympic team 

  • Men’s Para archery
  • Women’s sitting volleyball
  • Sled hockey
  • Men’s wheelchair basketball
  • Men’s wheelchair rugby

The ceremony will be broadcast on NBC at 3 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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