American bobsled, skeleton, luge teams head off to Europe
There's some clear home-ice advantages in sliding sports, and Olympic gold medalist Steven Holcomb exploited that truth to perfection in the first half of the World Cup bobsled campaign.
His record in North America this season, on the three tracks he knows best: 7-0.
It won't be that easy in Europe, where tough tests always await American sliders.
From here until the Olympics, everything will be a road game for American bobsledders, skeleton athletes and luge racers, who resume their post-holiday World Cup schedules this weekend in Germany as the buildup to the Sochi Games really begins. Skeleton and bobsled teams are in Winterberg for three days of racing starting Friday, while the luge circuit is visiting Konigssee on Saturday and Sunday.
''I'm aware that I haven't medaled a lot in Europe,'' Holcomb said. ''But I'm a lot more experienced than I was four years ago.''
There were seven men's bobsled races in Calgary, Alberta; Park City, Utah; and Lake Placid, N.Y., to open this Olympic season, and Holcomb drove to victory in them all. Granted, Park City is the track where he learned to drive, Lake Placid might be a track he has been on more than any other driver on the circuit and Calgary is a home away from home for the Americans. But still, it's an Olympic year, everyone is bringing their best, and Holcomb is still unbeaten.
''Trust me,'' Holcomb said. ''They're trying to beat me. They're trying to beat us.''
They're not succeeding, or at least, haven't succeeded that often. Of the 54 medals awarded so far in World Cup bobsled and skeleton racing this season, nearly half have gone to Americans.
Holcomb leads the two- and four-man World Cup standings. Elana Meyers leads the women's standings. Matt Antoine is third in the men's skeleton points chase and Noelle Pikus-Pace would be leading the women's skeleton standings if she wasn't disqualified from the season-opening race. Instead, she's sitting in fourth.
''I'm really, really excited to be getting to Germany,'' said Pikus-Pace, who spent the Christmas holiday in Europe to get acclimated to the time change and surroundings. ''It's an endurance race. As much as this is a sprint sport and it takes all the quick-twitch fiber that we have, it's an endurance race to be able to make it to the Olympics and to bring your best in February after a long season - after four years, after so much time of trying to get there.''
For the U.S., the luge team headed to next month's Sochi Olympics is set, with the 10-slider squad led by two-time singles medalist this season Chris Mazdzer and former women's world champion Erin Hamlin being selected last month.
There's still three weekends of racing before the bobsled and skeleton Olympic teams are settled, with most of the uncertainty hovering around pairing women's bobsled push athletes with drivers. Summer Olympic veterans Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams are both racing as push athletes this weekend, possibly with Olympic hopes at stake.
''It's the ultimate goal for everyone,'' Holcomb said. ''Every week we are one step closer to the Olympics, and that gold medal is what we're all chasing this year.''