KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Steve Holcomb tried to hide the limp Sunday night. When someone asked why he was walking funny, he blamed his shoes. The truth is, he strained a calf muscle during an early heat and wasn’t certain he’d be able to continue in the two-man bobsled competition here. Somehow he battled through the pain and won bronze here 24 hours later.
“When you’re sitting in third place, you can deal with a lot more pain than you think you can,” Holcomb said.
He tweaked the muscle at the start of the second heat on just his second step. “Just pushing hard,” he said. “That’s what we’re here to do.” He could feel the pain in his left calf instantly and had to decide whether to stop running or hop in the sled.
“I’m glad he opted for the second option,” said Brian Shimer, coach of the U.S. men’s team.
[posttv url="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posttv/sports/10-facts-about-olympic-bobsled/2014/02/14/d7e17fae-950c-11e3-9e13-770265cf4962_video.html" ]
Holcomb managed to keep the U.S. team in third place at the competition’s halfway point but had no idea how his calf would feel when it was time for the third heat to begin less than 24 hours later. He went straight from the track Sunday night to meet with medical personnel for about 45 minutes and suddenly the entire Olympics for U.S. bobsled were throw up in the air. Could he get back in the sled? Should he rest up and make sure he was 100 percent for the four-man event, which he won at the Vancouver Games?
“It was a pretty dismal night, wondering if he was gonna be able to go today or maybe make it worse and also have to pull out of the four-man,” Shimer said.
Holcomb was up until 2 a.m. with U.S. medical staff receiving acupuncture treatment and kinesiology tape. He woke up Monday morning and continued receiving treatment until it was race time. “We had three medical staff working with him around the clock to get him through today, not knowing if he was even going to be able to push,” Shimer said. “They did a great job.”
As the race got closer, Holcomb said he knew he couldn’t pull out of the event.
“This is four years to get to this point,” he said. “I’m not going to let a little calf boo boo stop me.”
He relied on teammate Steve Langston to push a little harder in the first heat — “I knew I would have to give every ounce of anything I had just to compensate for his little injury,” Langston said — but with medal on the line in the fourth heat, Holcomb knew he couldn’t hold anything back.
“Sitting in third place, you’ve got to give it everything you’ve got,” he said.
There was pain but with so much at stake, Holcomb said it was easy to ignore. With both Langston and Holcomb pushing full-speed, they managed to win bronze, just 0.04 of a second faster than fourth-place Russian sled.
The four-man competition doesn’t begin until Saturday. Holcomb said he hopes that’s enough time to allow his calf to properly heal. He doesn’t expect it to impact his attempt at defending gold.
“The good news is I have two more dudes that are about to roll in on the sled to help me push, so it’s going to be pretty push regardless,” he said. “These guys are ready to go. …The good thing is when we do well on two-man, we typically do pretty well on four-man. That’s kind of our practice. We’re starting to figure out the track, things are starting to come around. It’s looking good. We’re happy with where we’re at.”