By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Sight to behold
Holcomb leads USA to gold in bobsledding
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News
Steve Holcomb saw to it that the Olympics didn’t end before the United States broke another long drought.

And that’s pretty amazing, because a couple of years ago, Holcomb couldn’t see anything.

It’s hard enough negotiating daily life in a blind state. Forget about driving a four-man bobsled 90 miles an hour down a narrow chute through a dozen tight turns over a bed of ice. How many of us could do that with perfect vision?

Holcomb suffers from a degenerative eye condition called keratoconus. In basic terms, the disease causes the cornea to thin out, causing a cone shaped bulge in the front of the eye.

Prior to the 2006 Olympics, Holcomb’s vision was 20-500. He was, in his own words according to, “legally blind without corrective lenses. If I don’t wear my contacts, it’s comparable to opening your eyes under water.”

Two years ago, Holcomb’s vision forced him to seriously consider retiring from bobsledding. Then he heard about an experimental new procedure which involved implantable collamer lenses being inserted behind each iris.

Holcomb emerged from the surgery with perfect vision. But that created a whole new set of problems.

“You see too much information,” Holcomb told David Ljunggren of the Washington Post. “Before, I couldn’t see anything and then, all of a sudden, I could see things, and I was driving by seeing, by vision, and not the feel of the sled.”

How did Holcomb deal with this sensory overload? “I actually had to kind of unlearn,” he told “I had to take steps to really focus on not looking at the track. Focus on the feel, the way the sled moves, how the guys are behind me as opposed to trying to see where I’m going.”

Part of Holcomb’s success he attributes to eight years spent as an alpine skier. “You inspect the course and have the ideal line going down the hill, but it’s very rare that you are on that line,” he told Ljunggren. “So, I think I developed the skill of being able to anticipate and correct before the problem started.”

The switch from alpine skier to bobsledder seems natural. After all, how many world-class skiers carry 230 pounds on a 6’1” frame? But the timing of the switch could have been better. Holcomb’s father had just mailed a non-refundable tuition check in to the University of Utah when his son announced that he was leaving for Europe to become a bobsledder.

Not a problem. “All his life, he’s been kind of a freak,” his father told Jonathan Abrams of the New York Times. “He can run really fast, he can jump really high. He can play foosball with two balls against two people. He really has some interesting reaction times.”

Not always. Holcomb managed to break his arm in a trampoline accident as a child. The very day his cast was removed, he fell off a mailbox and broke the same arm again.

Good eyesight and good reaction times are great assets to a bobsledder, but you don’t get anywhere fast without a great sled.

Enter Geoff Bodine and Bob Cuneo. In 1992, Bodine, the former NASCAR driver and Daytona 500 champion, decided that America had been second-rate in bobsledding long enough. Instead of using hand-me-down sleds from the Germans and other European bobsledding masters, he proposed that we start building our own sleds.

Bodine enlisted the help of Bob Cuneo, the chassis designer of Chassis Dynamics, and the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project emerged.

Bo-Dyn then procured the aid of Exa Corp. Exa makes simulation software for fluids engineering. Exa designed a digital wind tunnel to assist in designing a new sled.

The process resulted in the Night Train, the sled Holcomb drove in Vancouver. He drove a prototype to the world championship last year.

But to win gold in Vancouver, Holcomb had to overcome additional obstacles. First was the superfast, dangerous track that wiped out six sleds during the opening two runs. Next was the two-time defending Olympic champion, Andre’ Lange of Germany. Lange was driving for a record third straight Olympic gold.

Finally, Holcomb had to overcome 62 years of frustration. No American had won the Olympic four man bobsled since Francis Tyler won at St.
Moritz in 1948. That’s the same year the Cleveland Indians won their last World Series.

No problem. First run, track record. Second run, track record. Third run, fastest time. Fourth run, safely down to gold. At last.

“No more 62 years!” Holcomb told Abrams. “”We’ll start the clock over. Now it’s going to be four years!”

Lange finished second, and true to the Olympic spirit, gave Holcomb an assist. “Obviously, he was upset,” Holcomb told “But, he knows what it’s like to be the guy that pulls a whooping down for a run. Before the second run, he was giving me good luck. He looked at me and was like, ‘Relax, have fun!’”

Advice taken.