LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Some of Steven Holcomb’s ashes are scattered at Mount Van Hoevenberg, the track where the longtime U.S. bobsled driver dominated like no other for about the last two decades. His initials are on the speedsuits that his teammates will wear this season. His words still echo in their heads.
He’s clearly not forgotten.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the U.S. raced in a World Cup bobsled competition without Holcomb – the three-time Olympic medalist – on the roster. They took three of the six available medals Thursday, a silver in women’s bobsled from the pairing of Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs, silver in two-man from Nick Cunningham and Ryan Bailey, and bronze from Codie Bascue and Carlo Valdes.
“We miss him every day,” said brakeman Steven Langton, who unretired a year ago with hopes of racing with Holcomb this season and was sixth with driver Justin Olsen in his first World Cup since 2014. “I miss him every day. We’re going to do the best job we can to honor him throughout the season.”
Holcomb died unexpectedly in his sleep in May at his dorm room inside the Olympic Training Center, where USA Bobsled and Skeleton has its offices and where many sliders live, lift and sleep when they’re in Lake Placid. Holcomb won the two-man World Cup gold at Lake Placid a year ago, and Cunningham nearly followed suit Thursday.
He had to settle for second, one spot behind the German team of Nico Walther and Christian Poser. Walther and Poser, the husband of U.S. women’s bobsled pilot Jamie Greubel Poser, finished two runs in 1 minutes, 51.92 seconds. Cunningham and Bailey – a U.S. Olympian in track at the London Games – finished in 1:52.03.
“I needed this to, I don’t want to say resurrect my career, but last year was so hard mentally, emotionally,” said Cunningham, who matched his best World Cup finish after spending some of last season racing in the lesser international tiers. “I regained the love of the sport.”
Bascue got on a World Cup podium for the first time.
“Amazing feeling,” Bascue said. “A little bit of an emotional race, my first race without Holcy, but I took that and kind of used the emotion and it’s nice to be on the podium for the first time.”
It was far from a first podium trip for Kaillie Humphries, who went to bobsled school in Lake Placid and clearly paid attention in class.
The two-time reigning Olympic champion from Canada got her season off to a winning start, teaming with Melissa Lotholz to win gold at Mount Van Hoevenberg in the World Cup women’s bobsled season-opener. It was the fourth time Humphries won in Lake Placid, where she drove a bobsled for the first time in 2006 and quickly became one of the sport’s stars.
“To beat the Americans on any track is difficult,” Humphries said.
Humphries’ two-run time was 1:54.40. She edged longtime friend and rival Meyers Taylor, who paired with Gibbs to finish in 1:54:43 – with a start record in there as well. Germany got the bronze, with Stephanie Schneider and Lisa Marie Buchwitz finishing in 1:54.60 and nipping Greubel Poser and Aja Evans of the U.S. by 0.01 seconds.
“I love this track just as much as anybody,” said Humphries, whose hair was dyed in the colors of the South Korean flag in a nod to the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics. “I’ve been driving it for numerous years and I’m really happy to do it justice today.”
It was the 13th time that Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished first and second in a World Cup, world championship or Olympic competition. Humphries now has won seven of those, Meyers Taylor six.
“She had a good day. I didn’t have a great day. That’s kind of how it goes,” Meyers Taylor said. “I don’t expect this to be the trend, though.”
Greubel Poser, who won at Lake Placid each of the last two seasons, settled for fourth on her 34th birthday.
“So much went into preparing for this season, it was different for a lot of different reasons for us,” Evans said. “I think to get over this first hurdle with this first race in Lake Placid, it was big just to get it out of the way. Now we can move on and keep pursuing Pyeongchang.”