LAKE PLACID - As a light snowfall fluttered gently to the ground, American Steve Holcomb sped his way down Mount Van Hoevenberg's track and into history Sunday, capturing the two-man title in the 2012 FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships in Lake Placid.
It marked the third time in three years that the Park City, Utah native has driven to a historic victory for the United States bobsled team.
In 2009 on the same run in Lake Placid, Holcomb captured the four-man title to end a 50-year drought for the U.S. at the World Championships. He followed that by winning gold a year later in the Vancouver Winter Games, which was the first four-man U.S. victory at the Olympics in 62 years. Then on Sunday, Holcomb and brakeman Steve Langton won the first two-man World Championship crown in the history of U.S. men's bobsledding.
Brakeman Steve Langton hoists the Max Houben Memorial Trophy while standing with driver Steve Holcomb after they captured the first two-man World Championship title in history for the United States men’s team.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"After I won in 2009, I always wondered if the second one was going to be just as nice," Holcomb said. "It's phenomenal. My World Championship win, it had been 50 years, the (Olympic) gold was 62 years and this one was never. It's going to take a while to sink in. I'm just really proud of my team.
"I drive the sled, Steve pushes the sled. I push it a little, but there are so many other people that go into the little things of the day-to-day operation of the team," Holcomb added. "We were in the garage until 10:30 last night messing around with the sled, making some adjustments that we thought might help and it worked out."
After the opening two runs Saturday morning, Holcomb and Langton stood in second place, just .12 seconds behind Canada's Lyndon Rush, heading in Sunday's third and fourth runs. Holcomb didn't get off to a great start after putting down the fourth-fastest time in the race's first run, finishing in 56.96 seconds.
Holcomb then began slashing the deficit. He tightened the gap and moved up two positions on the second run, then took the lead on his first trip down the track Sunday. Holcomb's second and third runs were the fastest in those heats, and he secured the victory with the second-fastest final run to finish with a 3:42.88 combined time, which ended up being nearly a half-second ahead of Rush, who was the runner-up along with brakeman Jesse Lumsden in Canada 1.
In addition to capturing the four-man World Championship gold medal in 2009, Holcomb also won the bronze in two-man in the same event.
"I can't say enough about Holcomb," said U.S. men's head coach Brian Shimer, who won a World Championship two-man bronze medal for the U.S. in 1997. "Anything you throw at him, he seems to get down the hill quick. This is really a great moment for USA bobsled."
The Canadians took the silver by finishing .09 in front of Germany driver Maximilian Arndt and brakeman Kevin Kuske, who rounded out the podium in third place with a 3:43.43 four-run total.
Langton, a Melrose, Mass. resident who won the world push title a year ago, was exuberant with his World Championship victory on Sunday.
"It feels pretty fantastic," the Melrose, Mass. resident said. "This is my fifth year in the sport and I've had some good results, but to come out here and win my first big championship is pretty amazing. It's really indescribable. It hasn't quite sunk in yet that I won the World Championship with Steve.
Holcomb's triumph capped off what could be considered a fantastic two days for the U.S. men bobsledders, especially since the team struggled during the World Cup season. On home soil, the American men had three top-10 finishers in a field of 27 sleds from 17 different nations.
Racing on the track where he first learned to drive a bobsled, John Napier joined brakeman Chris Fogt to finish in sixth place, while rookie driver Nick Cunningham and his brakeman Dallas Robinson finished ninth.
Napier, who lives just up the road from the bobrun, said his sixth-place result was better than he expected.
"This was our best finish all year," Napier said. "We are the lightest and probably the weakest guys on the whole team, so going into the race, I thought eighth place was the best we could really do. We gave it our all. We raced with all our heart.
"The World Cup season was a struggle, but everything we do during the season leads up to either the World Championships or the Olympics," Napier added. "The World Championships are the end game, and I'm really, really happy with how things turned out."
The push times of Napier and Fogt were well off those turned in by the other teams finishing in the top 10, but experience driving on Mount Van Hoevenberg's mile-long run led to a consistent performance that enabled the pair to jump up one spot from their starting position on Sunday. Napier's combined four-run time was 3:44.28, which was 1.24 seconds behind Holcomb's winning time.
Cunningham, who competed for the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as a push athlete, had a solid outing as a driver in just his third race against the top bobsledders in the world. The 26-year-old native of San Jose, Calif. was especially impressive on the second run, turning in the third-fastest time of the heat to move into ninth place. Then on Sunday, Cunningham and Robinson held onto their ninth-place position, finishing with a 3:44.35 total.
With the two-man racing completed, the U.S. bobsledders will be in action again Saturday and Sunday as they hunt for more World Championship medals in the four-man competition. There will be two heats held each day.
"It was great seeing Holcomb and Langton come through," Napier said. "I'm really happy for them, and I'm happy with how we did. Earlier in the week, I was actually doing better with my four-man training, so I'm very optimistic. Maybe next weekend, we'll be in the medals. We certainly have a chance."
Competition in the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships resumes Thursday with the first two runs of the women's skeleton. The two Americans competing in the event are Katie Uhlaender of Breckenridge, Colo. and Annie O'Shea of Port Jefferson Station. The first sled is scheduled to go off at 9:30 a.m.