steven holcomb

Getty Images

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

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

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

AP
1 Comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Holcomb’s winning runs at 2010 Olympics