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U.S. Looks To Bobsledder Steve Holcomb To Add To Medal Count


Let's check in on the Winter Olympics now. It's been a rough time so far for team USA. They have only won four gold medals in ski and snowboard slope style and in women's snowboard half pipe. The U.S. has struggled in the more traditional sports of the Winter Olympics. That could, though, change today. The U.S. has the best bobsledder in the world, Steve Holcomb. And he races the two-man today.

NPR's Robert Smith joins us from the Sanki Sliding track in the mountains above Sochi. Robert, good morning.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Good morning. I'd love to describe the view but it's intensely foggy today. It's warming up here in Sochi.

GREENE: What, fog? That's not exactly what you want for a Winter Olympics, warm and foggy. I guess that's not ideal weather then.

SMITH: No. And some sports have been postponed by the fog. And even last night in the two-man bobsled the track was, according to the drivers, slow because the fog sort of warms up the ice.

GREENE: Oh, wow. That could make things interesting for the bobsled. Well, let's talk about Steve Holcomb, the U.S. driver. He won the gold medal for the four man bobsled back in Vancouver and that was something new. That was the first time the Americans won that sport in 62 years. Now, he's trying to do the same thing in two-man bobsled.

SMITH: Yeah. And the U.S. has had a similar drought in two-man bobsled. They haven't medaled since FDR was president.


SMITH: And so it's funny that the two sports are actually a little bit different. You know, the four-man bobsled, one U.S. coach described it like a Cadillac and the two-man bobsled they described like a dune buggy. It's less stable, you have to be basically a much better driver in the two-man bobsled. And we just didn't have anyone who could do it for years and years.

Plus, we had kind of an old - I won't say crappy, but we had an old bobsled, two-man bobsled.


SMITH: And it's been redesigned by BMW and we have Steve Holcomb, one of the best drivers in the world, driving it. So things could work out well for the U.S. today.

GREENE: And Robert, remind us about Holcomb. Four years ago in Vancouver he won the gold. And he was also struggling with this eye disease. How is his sight now these days?

SMITH: Well, he says it's good. And he does an interesting thing. He doesn't want his eyesight to be too good. And let me explain this. He started to drive around 2000, 2002 when he had this degenerative eye disease and over the next seven years his eyesight got worse and worse. And he finally had this sort of experimental procedure and it got better. But when it got better he said he almost saw too well. It was like watching the track in high definition.

So he figured out a work around. He told me that he often will smear a little moisture or snow on his helmet so he doesn't see quite as well. He can still sort of drive by feel. He can see good enough to drive the course but not so good that you'd probably get distracted with everything going by it 80, 90 miles an hour.

GREENE: That's amazing to think that you don't think want to see as well as you possibly can when you're traveling a speed like that.

SMITH: Well, the guy learned by feel. I mean, and a lot of this course - and perfecting a course is knowing just the perfect line to take those curves. And if you can feel it, then that's what you go with, your feel.

GREENE: And let me ask you just briefly about the weather. I mean, could this warm weather and fog actually threaten the games if this continues?

SMITH: Well, every Olympics has some sort of weather issue and we knew this was a warm weather site and the first week went great. This week it has gotten much warmer. I hear from the cross country skiers, it's like mashed potatoes up there. We're having courses that are sort of slushy. And even down at the ice arenas, keeping the ice skating ovals cold enough is proving to be a challenge.

But, you know, it's a race. We've got a week left in this Olympics and spring appears to be just around the corner.

GREENE: NPR's Robert Smith talking to us from a very foggy, soupy Sochi, Russia. Robert, good to talk to you. Thanks a lot.

SMITH: Thanks.

GREENE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Smith
Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.
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