IGLS, Austria - The USA I two-man bobsled team of Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton opened the Europa Cup season Wednesday with a silver medal at the Olympic Sliding Center in Igls, Austria. Teammates John Napier of Lake Placid and Chris Fogt finished seventh in the same competition.
"It feels great to get back into competition mode again," Holcomb said. "I made several mistakes, but we were still in the mix and shaking off some of the cobwebs. I still hate losing, though."
Holcomb and his push crew were granted a bye onto the national team after winning the 2011 World Championship bronze medal in the four-man event. Even though Holcomb participated in team selection races, he said it was still hard to get into the zone.
"It's hard to get pumped up until you're back on the international circuit," Holcomb said. "Every person out there wanted to beat me today, which was a unique feeling. On World Cup there are a handful of teams fighting it out each week, and here every person out there had a target on my back."
Fifty-three sleds from 26 nations competed Wednesday, including the two U.S. entrants. The team decided to acclimate to the European tracks before the World Cup tour kicks off in Igls on Nov. 28.
Holcomb and Langton powered their Under Armour sled off the block in 5.11 and 5.10 seconds on their way to clocking finish times of 52.72 and 52.82 seconds, respectively. The duo finished 0.22 seconds off the pace with a total time of 1 minute, 45.54 seconds.
Germany's 2011 Junior World Champion Francesco Friedrich teamed with Jannis Baecker to win gold with a combined time of 1:45.32. The 19-year-old pilot began competing in 2006 and is just one of many talented athletes in the German pipeline. Seasoned driver Edwin Van Calker from the Netherlands teamed with Sybren Jansma for third.
"The Germans have some serious depth," Holcomb said. "Whether you're racing against their first or seventh ranked sled, you know you're in for a competition."
War veterans Napier and Fogt teamed together for the first time in two-man to finish seventh with a two-run total of 1:46.04. Napier, a National Guard soldier, returned from a six-month duty in Afghanistan nearly one year ago, while Fogt completed his one-year Army service in Iraq this summer. Both soldier-athletes are excited to be competing together again and expect to improve throughout the season.
"Bobsledding is like a marathon, you just have to stick with it and keep kicking the whole year," Napier said. "That's what team Napier is going to do; fight till the end."
The crew clocked starts of 5.25 and 5.24, and Napier navigated his Alamo sled to the finish in 52.92 and 53.12 seconds.
"I was pleased with our push times," Napier said. "I had a great first run, but I made a few minor errors in the second run that accumulated into lost time."
The Igls Europa Cup continues tomorrow with a second two-man bobsled race in the morning followed by the first women's bobsled event.