Parkite drives his sled home
Park City’s Steve Holcomb admits that it was a little cold in the shadows of other Utah athletes at the Winter Olympics in Turin. After all, having been born and raised in Park City, he could never remember a time when he didn’t dream of making it to the Games.
First, it was ski racing that led his family to the decision to send him to the Winter School his junior year. Then, on breaks between classes Holcomb found himself standing outside to watch the bobsledders on the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) track. He began to think that one day he too could drive a sled.
The progression seemed almost natural with a lot of hard work and commitment mixed in, yet when he arrived in Italy, he was not prepared for the onslaught of media attention shed on numerous Utah athletes, and none on him. Sure, he was more than happy to be there, but still a little bit bummed.
But now it’s nine months and a new season later and Holcomb is suddenly in a whole new light. With the retirement of Olympic silver medallist Todd Hayes and his crew, Holcomb is suddenly "the man" on the U.S. Bobsled Team. He is driving the No. 1 two-man and four-man sleds and this weekend returns to his alma mater to slide in front of family of friends at the International Bobsleigh and Toboggan Federation (FIBT) World Cup Bobsled competition.
"We don’t come here very often," Holcomb said. "It’s special to come back to the track I learned on and nice to be in front of a home crowd"
Coming home is a rare treat for Holcomb who hasn’t been able to compete in his hometown since the bobsled competition was held on the track in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
"I would hope that people come to watch. It doesn’t come here too often," Holcomb said.
In fact, he jokes that his friend’s have no real proof of what he does when he leaves every winter, unless competitions are aired on television.
"It shows my friends I’m really doing something," Holcomb laughs.
Holcomb is hoping that he has somewhat of an edge over other drivers, although when racing against the best in the world there are no guarantees. Before the Olympics last year, Holcomb took about 200 runs on the UOP track, and spent his early years in the sport learning and training on the ice.
"I learned the tricks," Holcomb said. "It’s a quick track. The speed is fast and it’s short."
Holcomb first started as a driver six years ago after learning the ropes as a pusher the two previous years. He has been racing on the World Cup Circuit since 1999, with a break in 2001-2002 to perfect his driving technique. Holcomb still calls Park City his home base, but admits his days here are few and far between.
"It’s kind of a busy lifestyle," Holcomb said. "I haven’t seen many of my friends."
Holcomb’s father, Steve, still resides in Summit County and makes his home in Oakley. His mother, Jean Schaefer, has since moved to Colorado, but he expects both of them to spend the weekend up at the Park City track, along with other family members.
Even with the increased attention from both the U.S. coaches and his Park City fans, Holcomb says he is not worried about his performance this weekend. Right after Hayes left the sport, Holcomb thought that the increased pressure might change him, but thus far he says everything has literally and figuratively been running smoothly.
"I’m just doing what I do," Holcomb said. "The only thing is Todd isn’t around to learn from."
In fact, the goals Holcomb has set for himself and his push crew this season is winning a medal at the World Cup Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland early next year, because that what matters to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
He explains that bobsled driving is a process, one that most coaches say will take about 10 years. Holcomb is only in year five and continue to learn with every race. He tries to stay focused on his personal improvement and refining his technique with every race.
"I let the coaches and team build themselves up, while I work on my own," Holcomb said.
Still, in the first year after the Olympics he says focus and determination among the entire team can be difficult at times. He spent the off-season in San Diego, Calif. with much of the team, taking advantage of the facilities used by the U.S.A. Track and Field Association. Last week, in Calgary at the first World Cup tour stop of the season, Holcomb and his pusher Brock Kreitzburg slid to second place in the two-man event and he hopes to have similar results here.
Even if Holcomb and his crew don’t post a podium finish, just being on his home track reminds him of where he’s come from to finally lead the American team.
"Never once did I think I’d be where I am now," Holcomb said. "The possibilities are endless."
But standing at the top of the track, Holcomb isn’t thinking about the past or the future. He’s just happy to be home.
"This is such a great place to be," Holcomb said. "How could you not love Park City?"
The FIBT World Cup Bobsled event will conclude Saturday, Dec. 9 with the four-man race from 4-7 p.m. on the UOP track. Admission is free.
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Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday from injuries sustained in an off-duty accident earlier in the week, the agency announced.