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Holcomb pilots USA-1 bobsled to bronze-medal finish

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The first thing Steven Holcomb noticed when he crossed the finish line Monday night was that the Russian fans were wildly cheering.

Not a good sign, the USA-1 pilot figured.

The next second felt like forever. Had he medaled? Had he blown it? He had no idea. But as his sled slowed to a stop, friendly, joyous faces — people clad in red, white and blue — came into view.

“I saw the flood of Americans coming up and over the wall,” Holcomb said, “and that’s when I knew.”

Victory was not his. But he’d ended another 62-year drought for U.S. bobsledding, and that was more than enough. Holcomb and Steve Langton won the bronze medal in two-man bobsledding at the Sochi Games, the first Olympic medal by an American sled in the event since 1952.

By now, 62 must be Holcomb’s favorite number. His four-man gold medal at the Vancouver Games also snapped a 62-year U.S. drought in that race.

“If there’s anybody who needs a 62-year drought broken, give me a call and I’ll try to help you out,” Holcomb said.

Russia’s Alexander Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda won the gold in a dominant home-ice show, beating the Swiss team of Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann by 0.66 seconds. Holcomb, of Park City, Utah, and Langton, of Melrose, Mass., were another 0.22 seconds back, finishing just 0.03 seconds ahead of another Russian sled in the race for bronze.

“Man, thank God,” said Holcomb, who raced through a strained left calf that required treatment Sunday and Monday. “There was a lot of pressure on me there.”

Holcomb needed 45 minutes of treatment after racing Sunday night before he could emerge for interviews, and it was clear the team was worried about his leg. Langton said he and Holcomb didn’t even discuss the injury on Monday. Langton just knew Holcomb was going to show up and do his job, one way or another.

“Best driver in the world,” Langton said, pointing across a room toward Holcomb. “The best. That guy.”

Zubkov had the home-ice edge. Hefti has long been one of the best two-man drivers. And for quite some time, Holcomb has been fighting to dispel the notion that he’s only truly elite when racing on the North American tracks he knows best.

He debunked that theory Monday. An Olympics, in Russia, in conditions in which he’s never trained, facing a 62-year drought — and he delivered.

Great U.S. drivers such as Brian Shimer and Todd Hays tried in recent years to be the streak-busters, coming close but never getting over the final hump. So maybe it was fitting that one of the first people Holcomb embraced when that mob of love reached his sled was Shimer, who simply beamed.

“Holcy’s the man,” USA-2 pilot Cory Butner said, “and he proved it again.”

Germany, which had won the last three gold medals in two-man, had its top sled finish eighth in the worst showing for the sliding power in the event since 1956.

“If in 2010 we were sitting in a Formula One car, then this time we were sitting a trabby,” brakeman Kevin Kuske said, referring to one of the least-popular cars ever sold in Germany. “It’s definitely an equipment issue.”

That used to be the case for the Americans. Not anymore.

Holcomb and Langton gave the U.S. its fourth sliding medal so far at the Sochi Games, a total that beats the three the Americans combined to win in Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010. With women’s bobsled and four-man bobsled still to run, and the Americans expected to vie for golds in both, the U.S. has to be thinking their total will grow before the Sochi cauldron is extinguished.

FREESTYLE SKIING

BELARUS CLEANS UP

This was a high five Anton Kushnir will never forget.

Five spins into the frosty night air followed by a near-perfect landing gave Kushnir the gold medal and wrapped up a sweep of aerials gold at the Sochi Olympics for Belarus.

He won it three nights after Alla Tsuper, who recently moved to Belarus from Ukraine, took the women’s gold.

“We managed to repeat the success,” Kushnir said. “I don’t know actually how this happened but I got the gold medal.”

Kushnir won with the biggest trick going in the game right now — the “back double full-full-double full,” which is five twists packed into three head-over-heels flips while he soars 50 feet (15 meters) off the ramp.

He earned a score of 134.5 for the trick to beat David Morris of Australia by more than 24 points.

A pair of Chinese jumpers, Qi Guangpu and Jia Zongyang, had a chance to better those scores but both fell on the landings of their five-twist jumps.

Jia wound up with the bronze but this was another disappointment for the country that regularly brings a handful of top-10 athletes into the Olympics, yet has walked away only with a pair of bronze medals since Han Xiaopeng took gold in 2006.

Qi finished fourth, Wu Chao came in 11th and the world’s top-ranked jumper coming into the Games, Liu Zhongqing, fell on both his qualifying jumps and finished last among the 21 skiers.

BIATHLON

DOMRACHEVA TAKES GOLD

Belarus, meanwhile, keeps on finishing first.

Darya Domracheva of Belarus completed an unprecedented hat trick of Olympic gold medals in women’s biathlon by winning the 12.5-kilometer mass start race.

Domracheva, who also won the pursuit and individual race last week, took the lead after four minutes and stayed ahead of the field before finishing in 35 minutes, 25.6 seconds.

Gabriela Soukalova of Czech Republic was 20.2 seconds behind for silver and Tiril Eckhoff of Norway finished 27.3 behind for bronze.

The overall record for most biathlon gold medals in one Olympics is held by Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway, who won four events at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

SKI JUMPING

GERMANY WINS TEAM RELAYS

Germany’s win in the team event ended Austria’s winning streak. It had won gold in the last two Olympics and hasn’t lost a team large hill event since the 2005 world championships. Germany’s team included Andreas Wank, Marinus Kraus, Andres Wellinger and Severin Freund. Austria took silver and Japan won the bronze.

ICE HOCKEY

CANADA ADVANCES

Canada, the three-time defending gold medalist, beat Switzerland 3-1 to advance to the final for the fifth consecutive Olympics. The two North American powers have met for three of the previous four championships.

CURLING

CHINA MOVES ON TO SEMIS

China beat Britain 6-5 to qualify for the Olympic semifinals in men’s curling. The loss forced Britain into a tiebreaker against Norway on Tuesday for the final spot in the playoffs. Canada and Sweden advanced on Sunday.

In the women’s tournament, Switzerland and Britain advanced to the semifinals, joining Canada and Sweden. Canada is the first women’s curling team to go through the round-robin matches without a loss.

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