Steven Holcomb’s legacy will live on in athletes he inspired
The Park Record editorial, May 10-13, 2017
While newer residents may take Park City’s Olympic-caliber bobsled, luge and skeleton track for granted, it is a relatively recent addition to the local landscape. In fact, when first proposed as part of the region’s earliest bid for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, the project was far from a shoo-in. The steep, winding tracks were notoriously expensive to maintain and among Utahns there were few, if any, proficient ice athletes.
But Salt Lake City’s Olympic Organizing Committee was determined and Summit County seemed to have an ideal spot for the exotic venue. Still, local residents whose support was needed to approve funding for the project, needed some convincing. To win fans, the nascent Utah bobsled, luge and skeleton community let local kids slide around on makeshift sleds in ski resort parking lots, eventually enlisting some of them to try out for the national teams.
As Utah’s Olympic ambitions grew, the Summit County Commission began turning shovelfuls of dirt at what would become the Utah Olympic Park. In the meantime, a young homegrown athlete, Steven Holcomb, was tearing it up on the ski slopes as a member of the Park City Ski Team.
In 1997, amid a lot of excitement, and a certain amount of skepticism, Utah’s track, one of only six in North America, opened and something about the unfamiliar challenge sparked the 18-year-old’s curiosity. In 1998 he lined up with a bunch of upstarts and pushed off a career as an Olympic bobsledder that would lead to multiple gold medals and a hero’s status in his hometown.
Holcomb made his debut as a forerunner on the track at the 2002 Winter Olympics. For many in Park City, it was their first glimpse of the speed-crazed sport that required explosive strength in the start gate and hair-trigger reactions on the careening ride downhill. Holcomb and his fans were hooked.
After a break to serve in the army, Holcomb returned to bobsledding and Parkites followed every twist in his upward trajectory — cheering his wins (including Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010) and empathizing with his disappointments. Generous with his time and support of local causes, Holcomb’s passion infected hundreds of Utah school children and likely inspired more than a few future winter ice athletes.
Holcomb’s sudden death last weekend, due to an apparent heart condition, has cast a shadow worldwide. His warmth and mischievous smile will be deeply missed. But, there is little doubt they will reappear in the eyes of the next generation of Olympic hopefuls, inspired by a man who served his country, his hometown and his team before catching one final ride through the stars on the night train.
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