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U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton team to honor the late Steve Holcomb with own brand of excellence

Hans Pennink, AP

Driver Steven Holcomb, entrance, and brakeman Carlo Valdes, of the United States, compete right through their 2nd run of the males’s two-man bobsled World Cup race Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Lake Placid, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

PARK CITY — In the wake of the surprising demise of Olympic champion and de facto team chief Steve Holcomb in May the whole U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton team used to be reeling.

“We had to take a step back,” mentioned the team’s maximum senior motive force Nick Cunningham at the Olympic Media Summit in Park City this week. “It’s not anything you can prepare for; it’s not anything you can even think about preparing for. It’s a real eye-opening thing, and everyone mourned in their own way.”

The loss devastated every of them in numerous, very non-public techniques, but it surely used to be additionally a blow to the team’s medal hopes in the 2018 Games. Just 37, the Park City local overcame a degenerative eye illness and melancholy to change into the maximum a success U.S. pilot in historical past, incomes 3 Olympic medals, 10 World Championship medals and 60 World Cup medals.

For Cunningham, any questions on how the team would fare with out Holcomb, or how they might honor his legacy used to be erased when he went to the gymnasium two days after Holcomb used to be discovered useless in his room at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.

“When I knew we were all going to be OK as a federation, is that following couple of days,” he mentioned. “Everyone was in the weight room going after it. …You know, that was our outlet was getting back to make sure we carry on that legacy.”

Three-time Olympic skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender mentioned the final thing Holcomb mentioned to her has guided how she plans to honor her absolute best pal. The 33-year previous Colorado local used to be in the clinic combating for her lifestyles and he or she used to be suffering with the incontrovertible fact that her lifestyles turns out dogged through tragedies.

“I was getting down on myself,” she mentioned of an autoimmune an infection that just about killed her in February of 2017. “This stuff keeps happening to me…And it just started to snowball, like I’m tired of being the sad story, and he said, ‘Look, you need to be you. You’re getting into this negative thing that happened when you lost your father (in 2009). You’re not your father. You need to be you, you need to do you. Be the fierce woman that he raised you to be, and that’s how you honor him. So knowing he said that to me and then passed shortly afterward, what else would he have said to me?”

She mentioned the pair, who met at the coaching heart the place Holcomb died, had plans to be on the podium in combination in South Korea. She feels, as do her teammates, that the most effective means to honor a champion like Holcomb is with their absolute best effort this wintry weather.

“I have peace knowing that my best friend was an Olympic champion,” she mentioned, wiping away tears. “That just boosts my confidence and motivates me more. The only way I can continue both my father’s legacy and my best friend’s legacy is to live life to my fullest. Because that’s why we were friends. That’s what drew us together.”

Each of Holcomb’s teammates took one thing from their friendship. Uhlaender’s listing could be longest, however he impacted everybody on the team in small and demanding techniques.

“This is the second time in my Olympic career I’ve had to deal with a death this significant,” Uhlaender mentioned, referencing the incontrovertible fact that she misplaced her father to most cancers in 2009. “I’m unfortunately slightly prepared to know how I’m going to respond knowing that going through day-to-day life is going to be different, knowing that he’s not someone that I need. It’s just epically sad that he’s not there to share these moments with me because we’ve done it my whole career together. I’ve not gone to the Games without him.”

She laughs as she tells tales about their adventures — and misadventures — after which issues out that they’d already scouted the observe in Pyeongchang.

“I have all his lines for Korea, by the way,” she laughed. “I know all of them because we dialed in that track together.”

Brakeman Steve Langton, who received two bronze medals with Holcomb in Sochi, got here out of retirement to attempt to earn a place in his sled. Justin Cunningham, who used to be a brakeman for Holcomb right through the 2010 Olympics after they received gold, had transformed to a pilot in 2015.

“I would say we’re a little bit of the opposite as far as he’s a little quieter, keeps to himself and I’m pretty outspoken,” mentioned Olsen. “He’s taught me to have balance with that. He calmed me down on things. …He’s taught me to think before I speak.”

Cunningham mentioned Holcomb helped him put the game — and the rigors of festival — in standpoint.

“Not to stress,” Cunningham mentioned of the most beneficial factor he realized from Holcomb. “In this sport, it’s easy to stress. You can definitely, when you start looking at hundredths of seconds, you start questioning your decisions or looking at different variables, and in bobsled there are ten thousand variables. Some crazy things can happen. He was really big on being, like, ‘This happened to me, and it’s not going to be the end. This is not the last time this is going to happen to you.’”

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