steven holcomb

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

Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts

Getty Images
2 Comments

U.S. bobsledders took their first track walk of the Olympic season on Wednesday morning, following the winding curves in Lake Placid ahead of next week’s national team selection races.

They did so without Steven Holcomb, the quiet leader of the program who died five months ago.

“I know a lot of people are going to struggle getting on ice,” said Katie Eberling, a recently retired bobsled driver who was closer to Holcomb than anybody else on the team. “No one in the sport right now really knows bobsled without him.”

Katie Uhlaender, a three-time Olympic skeleton slider, said she’s competing this season in memory of Holcomb, a triple Olympic medalist whom she called her best friend.

Uhlaender was the first one to find Holcomb on that awful Saturday morning in May.

“I broke into his room because I knew something was wrong,” a tearful Uhlaender said last week. “He hadn’t talked to me in two days, which was weird, so I broke in.”

Holcomb was found dead in his sleep at age 37 inside his room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.

He had more than the typical dosage of prescription sleeping pills and a blood-alcohol level above the threshold of intoxication in his system, according to a toxicology report.

Nick Cunningham, a two-time Olympic bobsled driver, was Holcomb’s next-door neighbor at the training center. If Holcomb coughed, Cunningham heard it.

Cunningham was in California when he learned of Holcomb’s death.

He and other team members did off-ice training in Calgary in the summer, but Cunningham believed Holcomb’s absence would sink in once they started taking runs down the Lake Placid track.

“The past 10 years in the sport, he’s taken the first trip down the hill,” Cunningham said last week. “I think, what we’re going to do is maybe have a little moment of silence for the first 55 seconds of the day, let the clock run. I think that will be good closure for a lot of athletes.”

Steven Langton was Holcomb’s right-hand man in Sochi, taking bronze medals in the two- and four-man events. It looked like those would be Langton’s final career runs, until he unretired in February.

After Holcomb’s death, Langton was often asked if he was reconsidering coming back now that his pilot was gone.

“I miss him every day,” Langton said. “I think about him every day, but the stuff I’m reminded by is all good stuff. I plan to carry that with me through the season.”

Carlo Valdes, a former UCLA wide receiver, picked up bobsledding after the Sochi Olympics and became a mainstay in Holcomb’s sled over the last three seasons.

Valdes was in the sled for four of Holcomb’s five World Cup podiums last season. No other U.S. driver has made a World Cup podium since December 2014.

Next week, Valdes will push for first-time Olympic hopeful Codie Bascue in the national team selection races.

“A lot of us made our peace, but at the same time it’s going to be a lot different this year,” Valdes said. “All of us had to continue on for [Holcomb], and to win multiple medals for him. It’s just a service to him, especially being on his sled for the past few years, you have to continue on, push on to achieve that goal for him. We had a goal, we wanted to win, and that’s still the goal.”

Valdes and others have considered putting decals on sleds with Holcomb’s initials. Or wearing wristbands. It’s likely that somebody will be driving Holcomb’s two-man sled this season.

Nobody has more tangible reminders than Eberling, who keeps a box of memories in her suburban Chicago home.

The eight Chicago Cubs shirts that Holcomb owned (Holcomb is from Utah, but Eberling is a longtime Cubs fan and they attended games together). Mixed CDs that Holcomb made of songs that made him think of Eberling. The podium flowers from one of Holcomb’s bronze medals in Sochi that he gave her.

Eberling and Holcomb accomplished a childhood dream together — beating Super Mario Bros.

They had long conversations in Target’s patio furniture section. They ordered the same breakfast at Lake Placid’s Chair 6 — the Chair Lift with the French toast substituted for sweet potato pancakes.

Eberling, before speaking at both of Holcomb’s memorial services in Lake Placid and Park City, wrote down every memory, read every message between them and looked at every picture from her six years knowing him.

“One day, I told him I was sad because my favorite scent from Bath & Body Works had been discontinued,” she said in her speech at the services. “He got in touch with someone from the company and surprised me with an entire box of it. He told me he didn’t want me to start smelling bad.”

That was Holcomb’s dry humor. Eberling does not want to forget moments like that.

“I want people to remember Steve as more than an incredible bobsled pilot,” she said.

The night Holcomb was named to his third Olympic team in 2014, he did not celebrate. He chose to stay behind and comfort Eberling, who on that same day was left off of it.

“It’s crazy to have so much I want to tell him,” Eberling said on the phone last week, before pausing to collect her next thought. “The hardest part that I want to sink in is that I’m not going to see him again.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Eberling at peace with bobsled retirement

Steven Holcomb had pills, alcohol in system at death

Getty Images
12 Comments

Olympic bobsled champion Steven Holcomb had prescription sleeping pills and alcohol in his system when he was found dead last month, according to a toxicology report provided to his family and USA Bobsled and Skeleton.

Holcomb’s blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.188, well above the threshold for intoxication. He also had more than the typical dosage of the sleeping aid Lunesta in his system, and the report indicated that combination was fatal for the bobsledder who was found in his bed at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., on May 6.

More bobsled coverage here

An initial autopsy last month showed that fluid in Holcomb’s lungs was a significant factor in his death, but no precise cause of death was revealed pending the toxicology report.

“We hold our memories of him close and are so proud of him, not only as an athlete but also as a person,” the Holcomb family said in a statement to USA Bobsled and Skeleton.

The investigation by Essex County Coroner Francis Whitelaw is now complete, according to U.S. bobsled officials. But it remains unclear if Whitelaw will ever release a final report, or if his process of putting that together was even completed. Whitelaw said Monday that he was prohibited from saying anything new pertaining to the slider’s death because Holcomb’s family threatened to sue.

Whitelaw shared the toxicology report with Holcomb’s family, as well as a draft of his planned press release to seek feedback and ensure accuracy. Holcomb’s family felt the draft “included speculation beyond the scope of the toxicology report and autopsy findings” and requested through an attorney that the release be withheld.

“Anyone who knew Steven knew what a private person he was despite being a public figure,” his family said. “Our intentions were to continue to respect his privacy, even in death.”

E. Stewart Jones, an attorney retained by the Holcomb family for the autopsy-release matter, said making the report public without a court order or permission of the family would be a violation of county and state law.

“The family wants to move forward. They want Steven to rest in peace and they want to be in peace,” Jones said.

The New York State Police also plan to release a report about Holcomb’s death, though what that will contain and when it is coming remain unknown.

The 37-year-old Holcomb was a three-time Olympic medalist, including a four-man gold medal for the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Games. He won two bronzes at the Sochi Games in 2014, and was a virtual lock to make his fourth Olympic appearance at PyeongChang next winter.

“Steven’s passing is a tragedy and we are devastated to lose him,” the Holcomb family said. “Steven was an amazing son and brother who was loved and cherished by his family, his friends, the bobsled community and all the communities he touched around the world.”

He was the biggest star USA Bobsled had, with 60 World Cup and 10 world championship medals in his collection. He spoke openly of his past battles with depression — including a suicide attempt — but also had many plans for the coming months, including sponsor appearances, a planned surprise visit to his mother and training sessions with U.S. teammates in Tennessee.

No other probes into Holcomb’s death are planned, his family said.

“I’m not a religious person, but spiritual, and I beg of the universe that this puts Steven’s passing to rest in a graceful and positive way,” said Stephanie Peterson, Holcomb’s sister.

His team is ready to start moving on as well. A team camp is set to begin later this month, and Holcomb will be inducted into the USABS Hall of Fame on July 1. U.S. officials waived the customary 10-year waiting period before former athletes are eligible for enshrinement.

“We’re still in shock and struggling to come to terms with our loss,” USABS CEO Darrin Steele said. “The sliding community is a tight-knit family, and we lost one of our brothers. The outpouring of support from around the world has helped us begin the process of healing, but his absence will be felt for years to come.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: ‘Our champion:’ Bobsledder Steven Holcomb’s life celebrated