At Travel Out There we work by the strap line “Experience it 2 Believe it” and sometimes its the only way to describe some of our activities…not least the Winter Bobsleigh. 1km is covered in under 50 seconds and speeds of 115kph coupled with G-force in excess of 3G make for an experience that will last in the memory.
We were fortunate enough to chat with the USA’s Steven Holcomb about how he ended up driving the Bobsleigh for his country and also winning the USA’s 1st gold Medal for over 60 years in the 4 man event.
Q) As we are based here in Latvia, the Bobsleigh is close to our hearts and is our most popular Winter activity, how did you get into Bobsleighing in the 1st place?
A) I was born and raised in Park City, Utah, which is home to one of two bobsleigh tracks in the United States. So, in a sense, I grew up around the sport. I also went to a private school growing up called The Winter Sports School, which is geared towards students that are pursuing a winter sport. At the time, I was an alpine ski racer and that was my goal. Strangely enough, the school is located about 100m from the Bobsleigh track in Park City and I was able to watch bobsleigh training from class.
Q) For those who are coming here to experience a Bobsleigh run for the 1st time, what would be your top peice of advise?
A) Hold on tight. Haha. It’s not a comfortable ride, people assume that it’s a soft, padded, sled and it’s like a roller coaster. It’s not, the sleds are fiberglass and steel, there are no safety restraints, and the ice is not as smooth as it looks. Plus, if you have your head up to watch, shrug your shoulders to keep your head steady. Unfortunately, no matter how well you prepare, or how hard you try while going down the track, you are going to be sore the next day and you’ll find bumps and bruises in the strangest places.
Q) Latvia is famous for being very good at the Skeleton, Martins Dukurs was a silver medalist at the Vancouver Olypmics last year and worldcup winner in 2011. Have you ever tried this event, if so how does it compare to the Bobsleigh?
A) I actually competed in the 1999 US National Championships in skeleton, I finished 6th. I am also the 1999 & 2000 National Skeleton Push Champion. It was all just for fun and I had a great time. I still prefer bobsleigh though. It’s faster, a bit more dangerous, plus, I get to see where I am going.
Q) At the same olympic games you led the USA to their 1st gold medal in the 4 man event for over 60 years, can you describe the moment the medal was placed around your neck?
A) It was the most incredible moment in my life, and I’m not sure I’ll ever experience emotions like that again. It was truly amazing. Take a moment and imagine for yourself how great it would be to stand on the Olympic podium, now multiply it by 1000x, that is getting close to what it was like. It took me 12 years and immeasureable sacrifice to get there, the emotions were overwhelming. Even if I return to Sochi in 2014 and win another Gold, it will never be as big as incredible as the first.
Q) Prior to your pioneering Eye treatment, it was reported that you would often feel your way around the course, now that you have 20:20 vision do you feel that the time spent with poorer vison and a need for a closer bond to the sled and the course has worked to your advantage…in a sense were you forced to develop your other senses to be competative?
A) My poor vision is what made me the driver I am today. It’s said that there are two types of drivers, those that drive by visual cues and those that drive by feel. Since I wasn’t able to see, I had to rely on my feeling to get me down. The disease I had, Keratoconus, is a degenerative disease. So, when I first started driving, I was able to see a lot more (my vision was 20/20), and as my vision slowly deteriorated, I had to rely more and more on my feeling (in 2007 my vision was 20/1000). They say that when you lose one sense, your others are hightened. Well, it’s true, and while I did notice my hearing was getting better, it didn’t really do a whole lot for my bobsledding. However, my development of spatial awareness was incredible, I could feel things that the sled was doing that nobody else could.
Q) The track here in Sigulda, Latvia is used by teams from all over as a practice and test track…in your experience what has been the best track to tackle, both from a technical and speed point of veiw?
A) I have never actually been down the track in Sigulda, only because there are no World Cup races there. The track is not homologated to send 4-man sleds down, so we don’t go there. I would really like to someday, it looks and sounds like an incredible track. My favorite track is in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It’s a natural track, which means that it is built from scratch every year. It’s a sight to see. However, one of the most difficult tracks to conquer was Whistler, Canada. It’s the fastest track in the world, and one of the most technical. A dangerous combination.
Q) You are using Social Media to promote the work your doing with the team and also your sponsors…how has Social media helped you engage with your fans?
A) I do use social media, a lot. It’s the only way that I am able to connect with my fans and keep in touch with what I am doing. Especially in the United States where Olympic Sports take a back seat to professional sports like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. We don’t get any media coverage so people just lose interest or forget that we even exist until the Olympics roll around every 4 years. I use Facebook (facebook.com/stevenholcomb) a lot as well as Twitter (@StevenHolcomb). Come find me and say hello.
Q) Do you have a song/band/artist that you listen to before you compete?
A) I actually dont’ listen to music before I compete. One of the main reasons is that each track has it’s own rhythm and personality. Listening to music puts you on a different rhythm and can mess up what I am trying to do. Also, music tends to get athletes pumped up and aggressive. While that is good for the Push Athletes, as a driver, I need to stay relaxed, calm, and focused.
Q) If you put your IPOD on shuffle, what would be the most random track to come up?
A) I play a lot of video games and I downloaded the soundtrack to Halo 3, a game that I, as well as a number of guys on the team, play a lot. I had my ZuneHD playing on random and the game soundtrack came on. It was really weird to see everybody’s reaction. It was like the video game just came on and everybody started acting like they were playing. It was pretty funny.
Q) What would you be doing now had you never found the sport of Bobsleigh?
A) I’m a computer geek, I would probably be doing something in the IT field somewhere. I always wanted to be involved in video games, hopefully I would have applied the same skills and values that I have in becoming the top bobsledder in the world, into finding a good job. I did have the opportunity to meet the Xbox 360 crew last year, that would be AWESOME!!
Q) and finally….What would you say to any kids that want to get involved in a Winter track sport such as Bobsleigh or Skeleton?
A) I grew up in Park City, Utah and my friends and I would sneak out on the ski slopes in the winter and go sledding. I always joked that I wanted to be a professional sledder when I grew up. I didn’t actually expect that I would not only be travelling the world, sledding for a living, but be #1 at it. My advice to kids that want to get involved is that perserverence is the key. I see athletes come and go every year. The athletes that have had succes in bobsled, and in life itself, are the ones that work hard and never, ever give up.