LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Elana Meyers Taylor did not want it this way. She would have much preferred the first official training run of the U.S. bobsled season gone to the person who traditionally was first down the ice for as long as anyone on the national team could remember.
Steven Holcomb had that distinction for years.
On Wednesday, Meyers Taylor took the first run.
“I’m still pretty sad,” said Meyers Taylor, a favorite for Olympic women’s gold this winter. “I’m still profoundly sad.”
It’s been five months since Holcomb was found dead in his sleep at the Olympic Training Center — the building where the U.S. bobsled and skeleton offices are housed and where many sliders live when they’re in town. He was the leader of the team for years, and was expected to go into what would have been his final Olympic season as a contender for more medals to go along with his gold from Vancouver in 2010 and two bronzes from Sochi in 2014.
Time has not healed all wounds. But Wednesday’s task — sliding without Holcomb around for the first time in nearly two decades — was yet another step in the long and ongoing grieving process.
“Getting back to sliding will be somewhat therapeutic,” said U.S. push athlete Chris Fogt, who won a four-man bronze with Holcomb at the Sochi Games. “It’s what we do. When I came into the sport, Holcomb was USA-1, the guy you wanted to be with, the guy you wanted to slide with, the guy you wanted to be like. Now that he has passed the torch, too soon, it’s still our job to carry on that legacy. So the best thing we can do is slide and win.”
The last official team event at that Mount Van Hoevenberg start track where sliders worked Wednesday was a memorial service for Holcomb back in May. The room where he lived and died at the training center has since been remodeled, now featuring hardwood floors and new paint. No athletes live in that room anymore; it’s basically a suite for visiting officials now.
Many of his teammates still try to avoid walking anywhere near the door that used to be his.
“We had 10 first days together,” said Justin Olsen, who is now driving the sled Holcomb had last season and will likely enter the season as USA-1, the top driver on the men’s team and the title that Holcomb held for years. “So it was a little bit strange. Today was definitely the first day in a long time that I felt I missed my friend, but at the same time I know Steve would be upset with me if I let off the gas now.”
The mood Wednesday was not somber, though Holcomb was in the minds of many of the sliders.
Nick Cunningham, one of the bobsled drivers, pulled off his annual joke on rookie Josh Williamson by telling him — moments before Williamson, one of the winners of the “Next Olympic Hopeful” program, made his first-ever trip down the ice — that a key part of their sled had broken off but that they would take the ride anyway.
“It’s a little ritual,” said Cunningham, who hid some spare parts in the front of his sled to pull off the gag. “It’s been a long offseason with everything that happened with Steve and coming together as a team. We need to honor his legacy as well as maintain the success we’ve had over the years.”
It’s clear that Holcomb will be in mind all season, and likely beyond.
There are plans for a tribute that will coincide with the first World Cup race of the season, which will be held in Lake Placid next month. Team members are expected to wear a commemorative patch on their speedsuits this season.
“This team now has another purpose,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said. “This team now has another reason to continue on.”