Holcomb ends 62-year U.S. drought

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Four years ago in Vancouver, Steven Holcomb ended America's 62-year gold-medal drought in the four-man bobsled. On Monday, he ended America's 62-year medal drought in the two-man bobsled by earning the bronze.

Hmmm. Perhaps Theo Epstein and the Cubs might want to sign him.

"Sixty-two and 62, that's 124 years," Holcomb said when asked about ending the Cubs' 106-year world championship drought. "So just let me know. You want to put in a good word for me, by all means, do. I would love to go."

Let's see. If the Cubs gave Alfonso Soriano $136 million, a Robinson Cano-like $240 million contract might be in order for Holcomb. After all, this is the guy you want in your lineup when you need to overcome adversity, the more extensive the better. Prior to the Vancouver Games, the former soldier overcame near-blindness -- his vision had declined so much that he couldn't always recognize who was sitting across a table from him -- and a resulting deep depression.

He won the bronze Monday despite straining his left calf while pushing off in the second heat the night before. Dealing with the pain, he drove the sled as best he could, dropping from second place after the first heat to third.

"What sucks is that when you get in the sled, you still have a minute to go," Holcomb said. "You can't just get out and go, 'Owwwwww!' You sit there and try to focus on the drive and all you can think about is that your leg hurts."

The start is crucial in bobsled, so pushing off with a weakened leg can curse you almost as much as stuffing a billy goat (or worse, Carlos Marmol) into a sled.

To get the leg healthy, Holcomb underwent considerable treatment that included acupuncture and electrical stimulus. Even so, U.S. coach Brian Shimer consulted with Holcomb Monday morning to see whether it might be a better idea for the driver to drop out of the two-man event so that he could rest the leg for the four-man event Sunday. Holcomb said that suggestion "was off the table even before it was on the table."

"It's four years to get to this point," Holcomb said. "I'm not going to be stopped by a little calf muscle."

Holcomb's injury wasn't the only adversity facing the U.S. team -- and almost every other sled as well. Practice time on a bobsled course -- learning its curves and lines -- plays a major factor in the sport. Just as the U.S. gained advantage from training on the Park City course before the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and the Whistler course before the 2010 Games, the Russians had an enormous advantage here. Chris Fogt, pusher on the No. 2 U.S. sled, estimates gold-medal winning driver Alexander Zubkov had 300 to 400 runs on the course here, compared to 40 for the U.S. teams.

Overcoming that sort of disadvantage is like pitching with the wind blowing out at Wrigley. Taking everything into consideration, Shimer told Holcomb, "I know you thrive under pressure but you're going to have to drive two perfect runs."

Holcomb and pusher Steve Langton raced well enough in the third heat to keep themselves in third place, increasing their ever-so-slight lead to nine-hundredths of a second over the fourth-place Canadian sled. The Canadians had a poor final run, but the No. 2 Russian sled dialed up the pressure with a superb run that pushed them into the lead for a medal.

With his calf taped, Holcomb had to rely on Langton to make up for his aching leg. "Mentally, I tried to push a tiny bit harder," Langton said. "Not that I didn't push hard yesterday, but I gave every ounce of everything I had to compensate for his injury."

He did. The U.S. got off to a fast start and Holcomb drove them down the course and across the finish line to finish third by three-hundredths of a second with a total time of 3:46.27.

"To go away breaking those two droughts, it really is a good feeling and to know were going down in the record books," Holcomb said. "I know all the names from back in those days and hopefully it's not another 62 years we have to deal with."

That's unlikely, with the way Holcomb has improved the U.S. program. "He has elevated the entire U.S. bobsled program," said Nick Cunningham, the driver on the No. 3 U.S. sled. "He's put our program on the bobsledding map."

Shimer says Holcomb's calf injury should be fine in four to five days, so he should be healthy for the four-man competition this weekend.

Oh, and by the way, Holcomb says he was a center fielder growing up. So if the Cubs think they would rather go with Justin Ruggiano over an Olympic medalist -- well, there are plenty of other teams with long droughts who would be interested.

"This is my second 62-year drought, which is awesome," Holcomb said. "If anyone else has a 62-year drought, just let me know and I'll try to help you."

Hello, Cleveland?