Steve Holcomb wins at Lake Placid

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Steve Holcomb picked the perfect time to send a message.

Holcomb and his crew of Justin Olsen, Steven Langton and Curt Tomasevicz dominated the World Cup four-man bobsled race Sunday at Mount Van Hoevenberg, beating three-sled teams from Germany and Russia. The victory moved Holcomb into second in the four-man and combined WC standings behind Manuel Machata of Germany midway through the season.

And Holcomb did it nursing a hamstring injury on a frigid Adirondack Mountain morning.

"It feels pretty good, especially the way the last two weeks have gone," said Holcomb, who won the season opener at Whistler, then finished fifth at Calgary and sixth at Park City a week ago. "It was nice to come back today and actually put a full day of racing together.

"The Germans came over here and kind of dominated on our turf, and that's not cool," he said. "We need to fix that for next year, especially leading up to the worlds here. It's nice to send them off home thinking, 'Oh shoot, Holcomb's back. When he gets healthy again, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Holcomb finished the two-heat race in 1 minute, 48.01 seconds to beat Maximilian Arndt of Germany by 0.58 seconds at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Lyndon Rush of Canada won the bronze.

Holcomb, who said it felt like "winning a marathon by an hour and a half," dominated the first run in USA1, posting the best start time and nearly eclipsing the track record. He finished the first heat in 53.70 seconds, just 0.03 off the track record set in November 2003 by Andre Lange of Germany and 0.47 ahead of Rush.

Machata finished sixth, while Alexsandr Zubkov of Russia, second in the four-man standings entering the race, was disqualified for being underweight on the first run.

John Napier continued his comeback with a seventh-place finish with his crew of Jesse Beckom, Colin Campbell and Laszlo Vandracsek in USA2. Napier, who returned in mid-November from a tour of duty with the Vermont National Guard in Afghanistan, had trouble at the start of his first run when one of his crew members slipped getting into the sled, then drove a clean second run.

Still, the ringing cowbells and cheers from his fans, including members of his unit, made it a memorable day for the affable slider who lives a stone's throw from the Lake Placid track.

"I definitely don't think I deserve it, but I appreciate it," said Napier, who turned 24 in early December. "There's people here that have done a lot more than I have. Now, I get to go home and sleep in my bed. It's been a long time since I did that."

Before Napier left the mountain for some egg nog and a dip in his new hot tub, he gave war buddies Matt Hefner of Pittsfield, Vt., and Eric Duncan of Northfield, Vt., a ride down the track. It was another step in readjusting to normal life.

"There's a significant transition period," said Duncan, who has done three tours in Afghanistan. "The culmination of that will take months before he kind of blends the life that he had there and the life he has here. The competitive nature and the stress that's involved in what he's doing as a bobsledder in the beginning is going to give him a great ability to transition and put his energy into. That will actually help him.

"One of the problems that a lot of service members find when they come back is just a feeling of a loss of importance, a loss of drive or direction in their life. John has that here."

Holcomb, the four-man Olympic gold medalist at Whistler last February, was surprised at the small field. Only the top teams made the trip, a sign of both economics and the year after an Olympiad.

"It was really strange," said Holcomb, who was headed to Colorado Springs for rehab work on his injury. "I thought they made a mistake on the board. I was like, 'Where's the rest of the field?' "