Steven Holcomb was a giant in his sport. He was the face of bobsledding in the United States for more than a decade, a three-time Olympian who won gold at the 2010 Olympics and a pair of bronze medals at the 2014 Sochi Games.
He was preparing for another turn piloting America’s top sled in the Olympics when he died in his sleep in May. He was just 37, and his death sent shock waves across the close-knit bobsled world. He was found with sleeping pills and alcohol in his system in what family and friends believe was an accidental yet fatal mix.
His legacy includes 60 World Cup and 10 world championship medals, and while he was among the best to steer a sled more than 90 mph down an icy track, those who knew him remember Holcomb much more for what he was like away from the sport.
These are remembrances of six of his friends and colleagues.
Curt Tomasevicz was in Holcomb’s sled at three Winter Games, winning gold together at the 2010 Olympics and a bronze medal four years later in Sochi.
I never knew the sport without Holcy. He was my pilot on my first bobsled trip in Calgary as a rookie in 2004, and he was my pilot on my last bobsled trip at the 2014 Olympics. He was my roommate for each competition season, including all three Olympics at which we competed. But more than my teammate, he was my friend.
The World Cup bobsled season lasts a few months each winter. One of the many non-glamorous parts of our jobs includes driving large rental trucks across Europe with our sleds and equipment from track to track. In January 2005, Holcy and I had a series of unfortunate events that proved to test our patience and expose our true character.
The team was to meet at the Munich airport, load the sleds out of customs storage, and make the five-hour drive to Cesana, Italy, the location of the next race. As soon as we loaded the sleds into the rental trucks, the fleet of cars and trucks took off down the Autobahn. Holcy and I ran into immediate trouble when our truck wouldn’t start. I wish we would have given up right there and traded that truck in. But we persisted, and the engine finally turned over.
About 50 miles down the road, the truck died as we were going about 80 mph. Without power steering or power brakes, Holcy muscled the truck to the side of the highway. Thankfully, two of our coaches, Brian Shimer and Frank Briglia, circled back, right about the time we began using words our mothers wouldn’t approve of.
Over the course of the next 10 hours and several hundred miles, the truck died five more times. Eventually we learned that someone had put gasoline into the diesel-only truck. The trip was extended from 20 to 30 hours. Holcy and I were boiling mad and frustrated, not to mention tired, hungry and just plain grumpy. But we never got upset to the point that we lost our cool.
It took a few months, but eventually we got to that point where we could laugh at our trip from hell. Looking back, I can see the same emotional control as we competed at the 2010 Olympics. External distractions existed, anxiety was high, and the pressure was incredible. But we remained focused. Internally, we may have been a mess, but externally we remained fixed on the goal.
I miss Holcy and all our experiences together. He was one of a kind and, even if we had finished last at each Olympics, I’ll always be proud to call him my teammate, but even more proud to know that he was my friend.
Katie Eberling is a former bobsledder who was one of Holcomb’s closest friends.
From the start, I was drawn to his goodness and stayed close because of his goodness. I spent more time with Steve in the past six years than I did with any other person — my family included. When I think about our favorite memories together, none of them takes place at a bobsled track. They are found in much more ordinary moments — the jokes and routines that accumulate over time.
A few years ago, Steve and I went to the Preakness together, and I forgot the most important part of my outfit: my hat. Without complaint, he sprinted around Baltimore looking for a big hat for me. And when my favorite scent had been discontinued, he got in touch with someone from the company and ordered an entire box of it — “So I wouldn’t start smelling bad,” he joked.
I often think about all the little details that made him unique. His impeccable hygiene. His hard laugh that would scrunch up his face, the way he would chew on his cheek or the skin around his thumbnail when he was thinking or nervous. His politeness and how he always opened doors for me. The constant drips of sweat off the bill of his hat while training. How he would use hot sauce on every single meal. How he always did things with integrity and treated people well whether he won or lost on the track. His extraordinary patience. When one of his Crystal Globes — the award for winning the World Cup overall title — shattered in transit, he sat there for hours, gluing shards back together.
One of the last memories I have with Steve came at the conclusion of last season. One of our teammates, Brent Fogt, was being promoted in the Army, and a ceremony was planned at the Olympic Training Center. On that particular day, Steve was preparing for an out-of-town speaking event and end-of-season sled testing. He had a very busy schedule, so I was surprised when he walked through the door for the ceremony. When I asked him why, he shrugged.
“It’s important to show up for people,” he said.
Steve Mesler was a teammate of Holcomb’s for the gold medal win at the 2010 Olympics and the 2009 world championships.
We’ve all had a song stuck in our heads, one where we try to inject a bit more fun by changing the lyrics. For me and my friend and former teammate, “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground provided us with a hilarious few months. The Holcy Dance, it turned out, was quintessential Steve Holcomb.
Invented in 2004 on a morning in St. Moritz, Switzerland, when it was so cold the local Starbucks was serving coffee on a stick, I started singing the infamous tune. Holcy looked up as we sat in the crowded start house at 7 a.m. and, with a half-smirk, he rose to his feet and started to shuffle.
With that, the dance was born. And for the rest of the decade, wherever we were, whatever we were doing, when I started to sing, Holcy would stop everything and dance. At the 2006 Turin Olympics, he was warming up for the two-man race on a cold afternoon. We were on different teams and yet, when I yelled down, “The Holcy Dance is your chance,” I could see Holcy stop his warm-up 30 feet below and break out into his dance.
Four years later at the 2010 Olympics, as we stood at the top of the mountain in Whistler, Canada, less than an hour before we made our final run down the hill to end the United States’ 62-year gold medal drought in four-man bobsled, I started to sing, and Holcy started to dance. Much to the chagrin of our teammates Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen, as we were being interviewed on NBC after winning that gold, the last question Lewis Johnson asked was if I could drop that beat — and off we went, all four of us dancing The Holcy Dance in front of millions of proud Americans.
Over the years, plenty of others did it, too — Stephen Colbert, Al Roker, Cris Collinsworth, Ann Curry and Dan Patrick — all with gusto, joy and probably a bit of confusion.
There was no moment too big, no stress too strong for Holcy to not be able to laugh at himself. That’s who he was, and that’s what made him the coolest competitor on the hill. When others made themselves so nervous they couldn’t move, Holcy could break out The Holcy Dance at the drop of a bad, bad beat sung by yours truly.
Katie Uhlaender is heading to her fourth Olympics as part of the U.S. skeleton team. She befriended Holcomb in 2003, shortly after taking up the sport.
I wouldn’t say we clicked immediately. We were at the Olympic Training Center, and I was super bored. I’d knock on his door every day, but he wouldn’t come out. I thought he just needed someone to help pull him out of his shell. I had this plastic sled that we’d push around the training center. We finally got him out and took it outside to the parking lot. I remember him saying, “I got this.” He started running and pushing the sled, hopping on it and flying down the parking lot, finally hitting this pothole and just exploding. We all died laughing. For years, we called it “Holcomb’s Hole,” and that explosion was the start of our friendship.
Our relationship was a unique one. We’d do math problems and puzzles and talk about physics. We traded little gifts. He gave me a copy of the motivational self-help book “The Secret,” along with a note that read, “You may not realize it yet, but you’re on your way to being an Olympic champion.”
The two of us balanced each other out. Usually, he was the one to calm me down, and I was the one who’d fire him up. I remember, when we were competing at the Turin Olympics, he said, “Man, before I go, sometimes I keep thinking how I’m not good enough, I can’t do it. You ever think that?” I told him: “Hell no! Even if you’re not sure, you have to tell yourself you can do it.” He told me later that that was working for him. “Yeah, make yourself believe it!”
I don’t think I handled his first bout of depression very well. I tried to give him a pep talk, which is the opposite of what you should probably do. He showed me his retirement letter, saying how he was going blind and just couldn’t do it anymore. I was like, “No, you’re crazy. What are you talking about?”
Of course, he underwent a procedure that saved his eyesight — not to mention his bobsledding career — and later I’d start to understand depression better. I suffered a concussion and was struggling with depression, too. I finally understood that it wasn’t a choice for him to feel that way.
But he knew how to respond, and that’s why he was able to be there for me in such a perfect way when my father died. He didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything. He was just there. Every day.
From that day on, I knew I’d be there, too. That’s what we did for each other. We didn’t need a reason. We’d show up every day. We’d text. We had each other’s back because there was a deep understanding of each other’s struggles and journeys.
One thing I’ll always love about him is that he never wanted to take credit for his accomplishments. I went with him on his gold medal tour in 2010, and I remember we were together in the Staples Center. All these people kept coming up to him. Finally, after at least two hours, yet another person came up and asked to see his medal. I was like, “Are you serious?” But not Steven. He was like: “Of course you can, man. It’s not my medal. It’s America’s.” He was the epitome of what an Olympic champion should be.
Brant Feldman was Holcomb’s agent and friend for more than a decade.
We’re at the cusp of another Winter Games, and it’s hard to believe he’s not here, carrying the flag for Team USA. He would have been the quiet senior statesman at his fourth Olympics. He’d be on the cusp of a medal upgrade from Sochi, where the Russians had to vacate gold medals in two races. Holcomb’s teams finished third in both.
But he wouldn’t be too concerned with that. He would have kept everyone’s focus on what’s next — and that was to win again in PyeongChang.
Obstacles were never excuses for Steve — not overcoming a degenerative eye condition that threatened his vision, not his battles with depression, which he was so open about, and not that torn Achilles’ that hampered him in Sochi but wasn’t about to keep him off the podium.
Each World Cup, world championship and Olympics was about winning today and not being happy with just being here. He took this job seriously — as seriously as you’d imagine going down a track at 90 mph and enduring forces upward of 5 Gs could be. He set the bar with his expectations, which quietly touched the entire U.S. program.
Carlo Valdes took up bobsledding following the 2014 Sochi Games and was quickly assigned to Holcomb’s sled. He was expected to ride with Holcomb through the PyeongChang Games.
Steve was already a giant in bobsledding by the time I started the sport. I met him right after my rookie camp in 2014. I’d broken my toe and was wearing a boot. He came in the cafeteria one day and sat right next to me.
“All right, that’s Steve Holcomb,” I said to myself. “Why would he sit next to me?”
Everyone knows Steve can be a real quiet guy, and sure enough, those first 10 minutes we sat in awkward silence. He was such a big deal, and I didn’t know what to say to him. But finally he broke the silence.
“So you’re the guy who broke his toe?”
And that was soon followed by another 10 minutes of silence.
It was funny at the time, but when I got to know him better, it made sense. He was someone who thought everything through, and when he talked, it meant something.
It was always my goal to someday make it on his team. That first year, I had some good push times, and Steve picked me to be in his sled. It meant everything to me, especially as a rookie.
Our first couple of seasons, we were still growing, learning each other. Steve and I roomed together on the road and slowly started opening up to each other more and more. On the track, we were improving, too, and at world championships last year, one small mistake kept us from the podium.
But Steve saw our potential, and things were on the upswing. We were one year out from PyeongChang, and he could sense it. We all could. We had a lot of momentum, and he was all-in for these Olympics, which he figured would be his last.
It’ll probably hit me more once we get to PyeongChang. We all talked about this so much. This is what we were building toward. It’ll be tough to be there without him, but I’ve turned that sadness into motivation to keep going and to do well for him. We all have. We want nothing more than to make him proud, knowing he’s watching us.
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