KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – USA-1 bobsled pilot Steve Holcomb's strained left calf didn't help his gold-medal chances in the two- and four-man events.
But the way experienced Russia-1 pilot Alexander Zubkov had the track at the Sanki Sliding Center mastered, the races were for silver and bronze.
In historic conclusions to the four-man race on Sunday, Holcomb finished third behind Zubkov, the gold medalist, and Latvia-1 pilot Oskars Melbardis.
It was Holcomb's second bronze of the games following his third-place finish in two-man and he became the first American since 1952 to win two- and four-man medals in the same Olympics.
"We came here to win. That was our ultimate goal, period," Holcomb said. "But to walk away with two bronzes, I'm happy. We're elated. This is fantastic. Being an Olympic medalist is not easy regardless of what color it is."
In the third heat, Zubkov separated himself from the field, Melbardis stayed in second and Holcomb leapfrogged Germany-1 pilot Maximilian Arndt and that's how the podium stacked.
Zubkov won in a four-heat time of 3 minutes, 40.6 seconds, becoming just the sixth person to win four-man and two-man gold in the same Olympics and the first to win both Olympic golds in his home country.
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"I wanted to create a masterwork," Zubkov said. "The track conquers me or I conquer the track. … We did the impossible."
Melbardis missed out – by nine-hundredths of a second – on giving Latvia its first gold medal in Winter Olympics history, but he will take home silver, and Holcomb held off Russia-2 pilot Alexander Kasjanov by three-hundredths of a second for bronze.
Kasjanov is the same guy Holcomb edged by the same three-hundredths of a second for two-man bronze.
"He hates me, I'm sure," Holcomb said.
Germany will go home without a men's bobsled medal for the first time since the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics – a disappointing result for a proud bobsled nation.
The tiniest of margins separates the top four men's bobsled teams going into Sunday's final runs. The U.S. is in fourth, but no one is counting out American pilot Steve Holcomb. Gannett
This was Zubkov's Olympics. Russia's flag bearer in the opening ceremony, he delivered his country's fourth medal on the final day of the Sochi Olympics.
There was simply no catching the 39-year-old Zubkov on this track. It's estimated he had at least 300 runs at the Sanki Sliding Center while competitors, including the USA, had about 50. Zubkov didn't win a four-man or two-man race during the 2013-14 World Cup season but won twice at the Olympics.
"We had limited runs and limited time on the track so we did the best we could," Holcomb said. "It's a little frustrating."
Holcomb entered the Olympics with big goals – gold in both events – and though he didn't win a race, he'll leave with his name even more cemented in U.S. bobsled history.
He now has three Olympic medals after winning four-man gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games and two-man bronze here earlier this month. He is the only American pilot with more than two Olympic medals. Holcomb, who raced with a strained left calf sustained in two-man, is the first American since Billy Fiske in 1928 and 1932 to win consecutive Olympic medals in four-man.
And if you can believe this, Holcomb ended another 62-year drought for U.S. bobsled. Before Sunday, Stanley Benham in 1952 was the last American to win two- and four-man medals at the same Olympics.
Holcomb's two-man bronze here was also the first medal in that event since Benham in 1952, and when Holcomb won four-man gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, it was the first U.S. win in that event since 1948 – all 62-year streaks.
Earlier in the week, the 33-year-old Holcomb quipped, "If anyone has another 62-year drought they need to break, let me know. I'll try to help you."
Holcomb helped himself – again.
"We felt a lot of pressure to perform here since we were the reigning champions. Everyone expected us to win, and it's not easy. I feel great leaving Sochi with two medals," Holcomb said.
The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation delivered outstanding results. No gold, but six podium finishes in five events: Besides Holcomb, Noelle Pikus-Pace took silver in women's skeleton; Matt Antoine bronze in men's skeleton; Elana Meyers-Lauryn Williams silver and Jamie Greubel-Aja Evans bronze in women's bobsled.
It is the best Olympics for the USBSF on foreign soil and rivals the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, when its athletes medaled six times in five events. However, there were three golds (men's and women's skeleton and women's bobsled) in Salt Lake.
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"It's just been a continuous evolution. There's no one thing. We're setting high expectations," USBSF CEO Darrin Steele said. "It starts with recruiting athletes. You've got to have the right coaches. You've got to get them the resources and the tools to win. The formula has worked."
The six USBSF medals in Sochi trail only the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association for most medals for a U.S. federation.
"The visibility is good. Success breeds success," Steele said. "I'm all about the training. So when I go and talk to sponsors and the USOC, we look at where we are relative to where we've been and where we still need to go. What the medal haul does is it validates some of the chances we've taken and investments we've made."
Those investments with the new BMW two-man sleds and with Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, headed by former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine, in the four-man sleds have helped win medals.
"I guarantee the teams that weren't on the podium today are scratching their heads and going back to the drawing board," Holcomb said. "We can't stand still and say, 'Hey, we made it.' We've got to keep going forward as well and having these medals is going to motivate BMW as well as Bo-Dyn to stay with us and show the hard work they're putting does pay off."
After initial caution, BMW and Bo-Dyn ended collaborating when necessary this season.
"Everyone at Bo-Dyn is happy that BMW got involved with the team and we thank them," Bodine said. "They built the two-person sleds for our athletes, and that allowed us to concentrate our efforts on the Night Train 2. That proved to be a winning combination at the Games. The two organizations helped with a great effort on both sides to get on the podium."
Steele likes to say sleds alone don't produce results. With Holcomb injured, push athletes Curt Tomasevicz, who said he raced in his final event, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt compensated with all the speed and strength they had.
Then, it was up to Holcomb to drive.
Take a unique tour of BMW's facility where they built and tested the bobsled in preparation for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. USA TODAY-VPC
He overcame a keratoconus, a degenerative eye disorder that robbed him of his sight, after undergoing an experimental procedure in 2008. He was on the verge of retirement and suffering from depression.
Now, he is considered one of the best bobsled pilots in the world and looking forward to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Holcomb said people keep asking him what's he's going to do after Sochi, and his answer indicates he's not ready to retire.
"I love what I do. I don't want to get a real job," he said. "I may stick around a few more years. I'm not sure. Just see how things go. I'm going to go home and relax and just gather myself over the next few weeks and see where I'm at.
"Look at Zubkov, he's 39 and he's winning. It looks promising for me. I'll be younger than he is at the next Games."