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Steven Holcomb’s four-man bronze caps U.S. sliding rise

Feb 23, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Here’s one final Olympic stat: The United States won more medals at Sanki Sliding Center than any other nation.

Steven Holcomb wrapped it up with a bronze in four-man bobsled Sunday afternoon, his second third-place finish at these Olympics.

He was the defending champion, but even Holcomb admitted Russian Aleksandr Zubkov was the bobsled favorite at these Winter Games.

Zubkov delivered his second gold medal, leading after all four runs. Latvian Oskars Melbardis took silver, just missing his nation’s first Winter Olympic gold medal.

Holcomb’s third career Olympic medal gave the U.S. sliding teams – bobsled, luge and skeleton – seven overall. Russia won six. Germany won five.

The U.S. has come a long way, baby. Holcomb knows that well.

In his first Olympics in 2006, he drove USA-2 to 14th in the two-man and then sixth in the four-man on the final day of the Games.

“Slowly but steadily, we’re moving up and going to get there eventually,” Holcomb told the Salt Lake Tribune that Sunday at Cesana Pariol.

The U.S. won one sliding medal eight years ago in Italy, a women’s bobsled silver. Germany won seven.

The Olympic shift began in 2010, when Holcomb drove the Night Train to the first U.S. men’s bobsled gold medal in 62 years. Still, the U.S. won only two sliding medals in Vancouver. Germany had 10.

At Sanki, Holcomb won the first U.S. two-man medal in 62 years. Erin Hamlin won the first U.S. singles luge medal ever, a shocking bronze. Skeleton sliders Noelle Pikus-Pace and Matt Antoine added silver and bronze. Elana Meyers drove USA-1 to silver as well, and Jamie Greubel piloted USA-2 to bronze.

“We’ve caught up, but the catch is we’ve got to keep moving forward,” Holcomb said. “Right now I can guarantee you that the teams that didn’t medal today have already started thinking about what they’re going to do. Right now, to have a medal in every event, that’s huge. That really builds momentum. It’s really brought this sport out in the United States.”

The Stars and Stripes experienced across-the-board sliding sports success for the second time since women’s bobsled was added to the Olympic program and skeleton was re-added in 2002. But those Olympics 12 years ago were on familiar ice in Park City, Utah.

The U.S. really proved its mettle the last few World Cup seasons and the last two weeks.

It showed it could hang with the dominant European nations outside the fertile grounds of Calgary, Alberta, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah.

Germany floundered, winning half the sliding sports medals it did in 2010. It won none in bobsled, a sport it swept the golds in in 2006. Overall, Germany placed sixth in total medals in Sochi after being No. 1 or No. 2 at every Winter Olympics since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What’s changed?

In bobsled, it’s been technology.

Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine founded the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project in 1994, the same year the U.S. was beaten by Jamaica in the Olympic four-man.

It paid golden dividends by 2010 with the Bo-Dyn-made Night Train sled. BMW joined the party to design Holcomb’s two-man sled in Sochi, accompanying a second Night Train.

“Having the support behind us, that’s the hardest part is having that technology and having people want to invest in that,” Holcomb said. “In the United States, everybody wants to play the major pro sports, which is great, but at the same time, nobody wants to get involved in bobsled. There’s not a whole lot of glory, except for every four years. Having that support from both BMW and Bo-Dyn has been phenomenal.”

It’s often said in sports that staying on top can be just as hard or harder than getting there in the first place.

Holcomb doesn’t believe that to be the case here.

“It’s one of those situations where once you kind of get there, you understand it,” said Holcomb, 33, who has said he isn’t sure if he’ll commit all the way to 2018. “You learn how to do it. We know how to win now. We know what it takes. I think we can maintain that.”