Parkite Holcomb revitalizes career with new crew
Local athlete cruised to two medals in Lake Placid
Back in 2006, U.S. Bobsled Team member Steven Holcomb’s production simply wasn’t cutting it. At this point in his career — just 25 years old — Holcomb was coming off his second Olympics appearance, but still had not medaled in a single race of any prior World Cup circuits.
“I was told, ‘Hey, you need to kind of pick up the slack, or else,’” Holcomb said.
He wasn’t quite sure what “or else” meant at the time, but words never had an impact on Holcomb like those. Quite frankly, they shaped the rest of his career.
The first race of the 2006-07 World Cup season in Calgary, Park City native Holcomb and his former partner Brock Kreitzburg took home silver in the two-man bobsled, the first World Cup medal of Holcomb’s career. The duo would medal in the following four races that season — two silver and two gold — to propel Holcomb to his first World Cup title in the two-man bobsled.
Throw in his second-place finish in the four-man bobsled that season and Holcomb was the 2007 Combined World Cup Champion for the first time in his career.
“There’s a mentality to winning,” Holcomb said. “There really is.”
After Holcomb realized this, the rest of his career was history. Since that World Cup season, he has been an Olympic gold medalist, Men’s Bobsled Athlete of the Year and a mainstay in the bobsledding world for the better part of the last decade.
However, Holcomb has recently gone through one of the toughest transitions of his career. After the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, where he nabbed bronze medals in both the two- and four-man disciplines, everyone from his crew to his pushers retired from the sport, leaving him with a decision to make.
Now in his 30s, Holcomb could have easily hung up the sled and called it quits on what has already been a decorated career. Instead, knowing this sport is all he is, he decided there was no way he could give it up.
“I’ve been doing this for 19 years,” Holcomb said. “It’s what I do. This is all I do. This is my entire life: driving bobsled.”
In order to continue his life of driving bobsleds, Holcomb needed to concoct an entire new crew, which wasn’t easy. Not a lot of people these days grow up with the sport, so finding ideal candidates to replace a crew that set the standard in the bobsledding world for the last 10 years was easier said than done.
Holcomb used a number of different combinations of pushers and sprinters, but none really seemed to click. Since the 2014 Games, he hadn’t finished on top, or even finished in the top three, of the final standings of a World Cup. He finished in 19th and 21st in the two-man and four-man competitions at the 2016 World Championships earlier this year, leading to doubts if Holcomb could still lead a team.
Enter Sam McGuffie, Holcomb’s new two-man partner. You may recognize McGuffie’s name from his brief stint as a YouTube and football sensation back in the early 2000s.
While his career in football didn’t pan out exactly the way some had envisioned — transferring colleges and bouncing around from practice squad to practice squad in the NFL — one thing was clear about McGuffie: he was an athlete. Also a track star in college, McGuffie has the speed and strength many athletes desire.
Using words such as “amazing” and “unbelievable” to describe what kind of athlete McGuffie is, Holcomb realized his potential and converted him to the bobsled track.
Turns out it was a good move. Though it’s taken some time for McGuffie to adjust, it’s better late than never. The 2016-17 World Cup circuit has given Holcomb and McGuffie new life. The duo made its first appearance of the season together in Lake Placid last weekend, where they took the bobsledding world by storm.
They finished in first place of the two-man bobsled and after teaming up with Carlo Valdes and Jimmy Reed, they placed second in the four-man bobsled race as well.
“Those guys know now that when they work hard in the weight room, when they work hard on the push track, when they work hard on the sprint track, it’s going to pay off.” Holcomb said of the weekend’s performances. “It’s finally paid off this past weekend. That’s something that we haven’t experienced in a long time, especially not with this entire new group of athletes.”
Reed and Valdes are also new to Holcomb’s crew, but like McGuffie, are former athletes. Reed was a hurdler at the University of Maine before switching over, while Valdes participated on both UCLA’s football and track teams in college. All of these new guys have needed an adjustment period to get acclimated, but finally, Holcomb is seeing it all come together.
“These guys are not slouches,” Holcomb said. “They are the real deal. When you combine them together, they’re a very incredible push crew. It’s just a matter of getting them to combine their powers.”
Through all of these years and the cycle of crew members, one constant remains the same in Holcomb. No matter who is by his side pushing the sled or preparing the equipment for competition, Holcomb is there to ready the ship.
And, in his mind, there’s no one out there better at his job than him.
“I like to think there’s nobody out there in the world that can drive a bobsled better than me,” Holcomb said. “There are very few. They challenge me. They challenge me a lot. It’s hard to say, but I’m not much of a [boastful] kind of guy, but that is kind of my skill.
“That’s what I do. I can drive bobsleds like nobody else.”
As Holcomb eyes the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang — which would be the fourth Olympics of his career should he qualify — he feels his still-fairly-new team is in a good position moving forward. The crew hasn’t been together terribly long, but as the results in Lake Placid would presume, they are starting to get it figured out.
The good news for Holcomb and company, though, is that they still have much of this World Cup circuit, as well as next year’s, to build on last weekend’s performances before the Olympic Games begin in February of 2018.
Of course, Holcomb is up for the task. The question is, are his teammates?
Holcomb says yes.
“Right now, looking at my team at the moment, could they win the Olympic gold medal? Eh, they’re approaching that level of greatness,” he said. “They’re starting to understand it. They are starting to get what it takes to be this unbelievable machine that wins medals.
“I don’t doubt these guys have medal potential, but it’s going to be a big challenge. They’re up for it. These guys are tough. They’re strong. They’re mentally ready. They’re young and they want it. They’re exactly what we need.”
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