Steve Holcomb: Back on Track
It’s been eight months since Park City native Steve Holcomb got his first taste of bobsled super stardom after winning the Overall World Cup Championship. Now, with the 2007-2008 season just three weeks away, it seems fitting that he’s right back where it all began on the track where he first learned to drive, looking out over the valley he holds dear to his heart.
But this year is different. Now that’s he’s the leading man, things have changed a lot. While the rest of the team endures a week of training and pressure at the U.S. National Team Trials at the Utah Olympic Park, Holcomb is working on other projects. His spot on this year’s World Cup team was locked in when he won the overall title.
He’s become a seasoned veteran of sorts. The one both revered and targeted. But Holcomb seems unfazed, instead he is spending his spare time helping both himself and his team by testing new sleds and runners. He has been forerunning the official competitions and uses the team’s practice time to test new technologies, seeing what a straighter piece of metal or a slightly different body style means on the track.
The logistics of the new sleds are strictly top secret even to Holcomb. The U.S. Bobsled Team is careful to disclose anything that a German or Canadian competitor could possibly discover, but they also refrain from explaining things to Holcomb. And frankly, he likes it that way.
"I don’t really want to know," he said.
Whether it’s a little superstition or a major difference in feel, Holcomb figures its best that he just takes the sled down the track and then tells the team engineers about the experience. He says if he knew beforehand, it might affect the way he drives or cause him to strain to feel something that he might not have noticed otherwise.
"It ruins the test if you’re paying attention to it," Holcomb said. "I’m more of a guinea pig."
He does know a few things like the center of gravity on one of the test sleds is lower. So far it’s been a pretty packed testing schedule. It took Holcomb three days to test two sleds taking six runs a day.
There are a lot of dynamics that go into discovering a better sled. It’s all about speed and the driver, Holcomb says. Obviously, the team wants the fastest sleds on the track, but the ability to drive fast depends on the driver as much as the sled.
"Every driver likes a different feel," U.S. team manager Brian Shimer said.
Holcomb says that he prefers a sled with long straight runners, built more for speed than safety, but another winning driver might fare better with a curved pair of blades that gives a safer ride.
"I kind of like to let it go and do its thing," Holcomb said.
The track can play tricks as well. With ever-changing weather and ice, each run can be different. Hence, the multiple tests on each sled at different times of day.
"The track changes minute by minute," Holcomb explains.
Holcomb definitely understands the importance of testing. Last year they sent him down in a two-man test sled with slightly different runners, but Holcomb noticed a marked change in steering that allowed him to drive a lot faster. mid season they had built him the same model in a four-man style. A few months later, he was a world champion.
Holcomb’s been joined by another Olympic peer on track this week. Olympic silver medalist Todd Hayes has been testing some equipment of his own. Holcomb is not sure the extent of what Hayes is working on but is excited to see what kind of new technology he might be generating.
The U.S. Teams’ sleds are made by Chassis Dynamics and Geoff Bodine to create Bo-Dyn Bobsleds, along with a team of engineers that work for the U.S. bobsled and Skeleton Federation, who know a lot about what makes a bobsled move. They’re regulated by the International Materials Board of the International Bobsled and Toboggan Federation (FIBT), which defines the parameters of materials, size and other equipment, but Holcomb said that the technology department still gets pretty creative. In a sport where races come down to hundredths of a second there is always tweaking and fine-tuning taking place, Holcomb says.
In Holcomb’s seven years in the sport, he says that he has seen a lot of changes being made more for safety than speed.
"They’ve slowed it down and made it safe and consistent," Holcomb said.
But Holcomb still knows how to make the sleds go pretty fast and is ready for the World Cup season to start.
He even says he missed the competition this week. He worries every so often that his very first competitive race of the season will be the first World Cup stop in Calgary in three weeks, but one thing he doesn’t miss is the pressure.
"It’s definitely nice not having to stress about it," he said with a smile.
He’s also happy to be back spending a lot of time on his home track. He said he got a little worried when the track didn’t host a World Cup competition for four years. Now, with Vancouver opening their Olympic track soon, he is looking forward to spending many winters on North American soil and winning on his home turf.
"Park City is one of my favorite tracks," Holcomb said. "It’s a nice place to start. I don’t know anyone on the team who doesn’t like Park City."
The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton National Team Trials continue Saturday, Nov. 10 at 9 and 11 a.m.
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