LAKE PLACID - Steven Holcomb didn't get that coveted sweep in the World Cup bobsled season opener. There was a silver lining in his second-place finish in four-man, though - teammate Nick Cunningham was standing on the podium next to him.
Alexander Zubkov of Russia won the race on Saturday at Mount Van Hoevenberg, sending a message he'll be a force at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Still, the Americans departed for competition next week in Park City, Utah, with six medals already in the bank. Holcomb and Cory Butner finished 1-2 in Friday's two-man competition, not long after Jazmine Fenlator and Elana Meyers had won silver and bronze in the women's race with track stars Lolo Jones and Tianna Bartoletta as brakewomen pushing in their first World Cup event.
Steven Holcomb, front, Justin Olsen, Steve Langton and Curt Tomasevicz make their way down the track during their first run Saturday.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"We had a great finish today with Nick as well. That's awesome," said Holcomb, the defending Olympic champion in four-man. "We've got a lot of momentum going into next week."
Zubkov and his team of Alexey Negodaylo, Dmitry Trunenkov and Maxim Mokrousov finished the two runs down the 20-curve layout in 1 minute, 50.15 seconds on a warm, sunny Saturday. That was 0.19 seconds ahead of Holcomb and his crew of Justin Olsen, Steve Langton and Curt Tomasevicz.
"This victory today means that we've proved that we are the best," Zubkov said through a translator. "We're not going that far ahead (to Sochi) because it's in a year. We have a lot of work to do."
Zubkov's first run of 54.8 seconds was the fastest of the day and left Holcomb 0.15 seconds behind. The American star, who swept the four-man and two-man at world championships here last February, couldn't rally on the second run.
"I didn't put two good runs together. I had a great first run, made some mistakes in the second run, but that's racing," Holcomb said. "This isn't peewee bobsled. We're out here fighting against the best in the world.
"These guys are at the top of their game. They're not here to lose. Zubkov's been around longer than I have. The guy knows how to drive. He does not make mistakes. I made mistakes and we didn't win."
Cunningham was in rarefied air after making the podium in just his third World Cup start. He and his crew of Adam Clark, Andreas Drbal and Christopher Fogt had the fastest run of the second heat and finished 0.32 behind the Russians. Cunningham's starts were both 5.02 seconds, as were Holcomb's, while Zubkov's team posted times of 5.06 and 5.02.
"To come out today and just to be with the big-time names in the sport, we're definitely going to be happy with this and celebrate," said Cunningham, who began driving after the Vancouver Olympics. "We're kind of excited just with the athleticism. We really are probably the deepest we've ever been. All of our sleds in the 5.0s (at the start). I don't think that's ever happened before."
Cory Butner and his team of Charles Berkeley, Laszlo Vandracsek and Johnny Quinn were 20th in USA-3.
The surprising showing by Cunningham deprived the powerhouse German team of making the podium as 2011 world champion Manuel Machata finished fourth, Francesco Friedrich fifth, and Maximilian Arndt ninth. Last season, the Germans only failed once to reach the podium - at Whistler.
Arndt's day was spoiled as soon as he jumped into his sled the first time. Marko Huebenbecker, the brakeman on Arndt's two-man sled, rides behind the pilot in four-man, and he slipped up big-time at the start of the first run.
Pushing hard, 6-foot-6, 230-pound Huebenbecker fell forward as he tried to jump in and was fortunate not to get hit by the sled. He finally loaded clumsily, falling into the sled head-first with a hefty push from Alex Mann, somehow sliding into the correct position tucked in close behind Arndt. The mistake left the German sled off the pace set by Zubkov despite a solid drive by Arndt.
"My feet were not on the side and I fell off," Huebenbecker said. "The man in position three (Mann) hit me and took me into the sled. We were happy to get down."
Much happier than Butner, who failed to build on his solid showing in two-man.
"We don't know right now. The drives aren't that bad. We're just slow," Butner said. "We have an issue right now that we need to figure out by next week."
Saturday's Four-man Results
At Mount Van Hoevenberg,
1. Russia 1 (Alexander Zubkov, Alexey Negodaylo, Dmitry Trunenkov, Maxim Mokrousov), 1:50.15 (54.80-55.35).
2. United States 1 (Steven Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steven Langton, Curtis Tomasevicz), 1:50.34 (54.95-55.39).
3. United States 2 (Nick Cunningham, Adam Clark, Andreas Drbal, Christopoher Fogt), 1:50.47 (55.13-55.34).
4. Germany 1, 1:50.54 (55.02-55.52).
5. Germany 3, 1:50.90 (55.26-55.64).
6. Canada 1, 1:51.06 (55.41-55.65).
7. Britain 1, 1:51.12 (55.47-55.65).
8. Latvia 1, 1:51.19 (55.27-55.92).
9. Germany 2, 1:51.27 (55.56-55.71).
10. Canada 2, 1:51.28 (55.65-55.63).
20. United States 3 (Cory Butner, Charles Berkeley, Laszlo Vandracsek, Johnny Quinn), 1:52.01 (55.95-56.06).