Steven Holcomb was simultaneously ordinary and remarkable.
America’s best bobsled pilot was a self-described computer geek who would rub elbows with Hollywood stars. He was never exactly in the best of shape, yet was a world-class athlete. He attempted suicide years ago, then revealed his story with hopes of helping others. He was a man who nearly went blind, then became an Olympic gold medalist.
His life was the epitome of a bobsled race, filled with twists and turns.
‘Huge loss, huge loss’
It came to a most unexpected end Saturday in Lake Placid, New York, when he was found dead in his room at the Olympic Training Center, sending shock waves through the U.S. Olympic community, and devastating those who had known Holcomb for the entirety of his two-decade career in sliding.
The three-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion was 37.
“The only reason why the USA is in any conversation in the sport of bobsled is because of Steve Holcomb,” said U.S. bobsled pilot Nick Cunningham, who roomed next to Holcomb in Lake Placid. “He was the face of our team. He was the face of our sport. We all emulated him. Every driver in the world watched him, because he was that good at what he did. It’s a huge loss, huge loss, not just for our team but for the entire bobsled community.”
No cause of death was immediately announced. However, officials said there were no indications of foul play after the preliminary parts of an ongoing investigation were completed.
An autopsy was scheduled for Sunday. Funeral arrangements are expected to be finalized in the coming days.
“USA Bobsled and Skeleton is a family and right now we are trying to come to grips with the loss of our teammate, our brother and our friend,” federation CEO Darrin Steele said.
Holcomb was a native of Park City, Utah, and his signature moment came at the 2010 Vancouver Games when he piloted his four-man sled to a win that snapped a 62-year gold-medal drought for the U.S. in bobsled’s signature race.
Holcomb also drove to bronze medals in both two- and four-man events at the Sochi Games in 2014, and was expected to be part of the 2018 U.S. Olympic team headed to the Pyeongchang Games.
“The entire Olympic family is shocked and saddened by the incredibly tragic loss today of Steven Holcomb,” U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said. “Steve was a tremendous athlete and even better person, and his perseverance and achievements were an inspiration to us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with Steve’s family and the entire bobsledding community.”
Holcomb was still one of the world’s elite drivers, finishing second on the World Cup circuit in two-man points and third in four-man points this past season.
A mass of medals
The final victory of his career was last December in Lake Placid. He won 60 World Cup medals in his career, 10 more at the world championships and three in the Olympics, making him one of the most decorated pilots in the world.
“You will be loved, missed and remembered forever,” U.S. women’s pilot Jamie Greubel Poser wrote on Twitter.
Holcomb was cherubic, almost always happy in public, someone whose sense of humor was well-known throughout the close-knit bobsled world. Teammates even spent a season chronicling his “Holcy Dance,” a little less-than-rhythmic shuffle that he would do at each stop on the World Cup circuit to make fellow sliders laugh.
But there was also a troubled side, including battles with depression and alcohol, plus a failed hotel-room suicide attempt involving sleeping pills in 2007 which he wrote about in his autobiography, “But Now I See: My Journey from Blindness to Olympic Gold.”
“After going through all that and still being here, I realized what my purpose was,” Holcomb told the AP in a 2014 interview.
The depression, he believed, largely stemmed from his fight with a disease called keratoconus. Holcomb’s vision degenerated to the point where he was convinced that his bobsled career was ending, and his mood quickly started going dark as well.
His eyesight was saved in a surgery that turned his 20-500 vision into something close to perfect, and his sliding career took off from there.
Winning gold with push athletes Steve Mesler, Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen at the Vancouver Olympics turned Holcomb into a full-fledged star.
In the months that followed, Holcomb met President Barack Obama, played golf with Charles Barkley, hung out with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes — they were then a couple — visited the New York Stock Exchange, threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Cleveland Indians game and went to the Indianapolis 500.
In the bobsled world, he was larger than life.
“We’re all still in shock,” Cunningham said. “I don’t know if mourning will happen for a long time, because the shock part will take a while.”