KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — An hour after his last race at the Sochi Olympics, U.S. bobsled driver Steven Holcomb stood near the finish line of the sliding track and started to take a look over the snowcapped mountains.
In short, he’s eager to see what’s next for American sliding.
After the show the U.S. bobsled, skeleton and luge teams put on at the Sanki Sliding Center — taking home seven medals, the most of any nation — he’s hardly the only one with that sense of anticipation. Chances seem high that the Americans might turn Sochi success — and the increased funding it’s likely to bring from the U.S. Olympic Committee — into a springboard for the Pyeongchang Games in 2018.
American success in sliding — or lack thereof — was always pinned on how the U.S. couldn’t keep up with the rest of the world when it came to sliding innovation. From 1960 to 1994, the Americans never won a single sliding medal, and they totaled just 13 in four Olympics from 1998 to 2010.
But with a commitment to technology — including continued strides by the four-man bobsled-making group Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, much more specific design work on skeleton sleds, a big investment from BMW into building what they call “ultimate sliding machines” for bobsled teams, and a major revamping in luge equipment — the Americans medaled in every discipline at Sochi.
Assuming the financing is there, the American teams could just keep getting faster for South Korea. And for the most part, the U.S. stars of these Games might just be hitting their peaks.
Holcomb has three medals now, tying for the most by any U.S. bobsledder, and he plans to stick around. At least two of his top brakemen, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt, have said they would be interested in continuing their careers. Women’s luge star Erin Hamlin now has Olympic bronze to add to her 2009 world title, and it would be a surprise if she picked now as the time to retire.
In women’s bobsled, Elana Meyers drove to silver and Jamie Greubel to bronze, and they both expect to continue.
However, retired track and field star Lauryn Williams, who became the fifth person in Olympic history to medal at the Summer and Winter Games in different sports, is almost certainly done.
But Lolo Jones, who helped bring Williams into the sport, might be back. And the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is already getting besieged by eager applicants who saw how Jones and Williams came in from other sports and found success.
Skeleton will lose silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace, but men’s bronze medalist Matt Antoine may stick around, as will Katie Uhlaender, who was fourth in the women’s event at Sochi.
“We have so many great athletes,” Pikus-Pace said. “America is going to have a lot to be proud of for a long time to come.”