KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Former U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program bobsledder Steven Holcomb and Team USA civilian brakeman Steve Langton became the first U.S. athletes in 62 years to win a two-man bobsled Olympic medal by taking the bronze at Sanki Sliding Center on Monday night.
They secured the medal aboard the USA-1 sled with little room to spare -- finishing only 0.03 seconds ahead of the fourth-place duo of hosts Alexander Kasjanov and Maxim Belugin, who finished with a four-run cumulative time of 3 minutes, 46.30 seconds.
Alexander Zubkov, who carried the Russian Federation flag into the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and Alexey Voevoda, a three-time World Cup arm wrestling champion, won the gold medal with a winning time of 3:45.39 aboard Russia-1.
Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann drove Switzerland-1 to the silver in 3:46.05, followed by Holcomb and Langton aboard USA-1 in 3:46.27.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, known as the WCAP, bobsled pilot New York Army National Guard Sgt. Nick Cunningham, who drove USA-3 to a 13th-place finish with WCAP teammate Sgt. Dallas Robinson aboard, was the first to mob Langton and Holcomb when the USA-1 sled came to rest.
They were joined in the frenzied celebration by WCAP brakemen Robinson and Capt. Chris Fogt, among other Team USA bobsled athletes and coaches in a pile of black and white USA emblazoned muscle men in tights on an ice-covered track lit by fluorescent lights.
Fogt pushed Cory Butner of Yucaipa, Calif., to a 12th-place finish aboard USA-2 with a time of 3:47.19.
"I'm just enjoying the moment," Butner said. "We threw down today and gave it our best shot. It's a dream being here, and I am so proud to have had Capt. Fogt in my sled."
Fogt spent a year deployed in Iraq following the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, yet managed to work his way back onto Team USA for the Sochi Games.
"To see the Stars and Stripes out here in Russia and have everyone cheering USA has been humbling," Fogt said. "To be here representing the USA in a different way has been awesome."
Cunningham, of Monterey, Calif., and Robinson, of Georgetown, Ky., finished just behind Fogt with a time of 3:47.69 aboard USA-3.
"We gave it all, all the way to the last corner of the last run," Cunningham said. "We wanted to medal, but it's really about wearing USA on our backs and being a part of this amazing team."
"We fought until the last curve," Robinson added.
U.S. men's Olympic bobsled head coach Brian Shimer also got caught up in the shining moment.
"I think I'm more excited for this bronze than I was for mine," said Shimer, who was part of the 2002 Olympic team that broke a 46-year medal drought in four-man bobsled. "I've been a part of a lot of historic events in my career in bobsled, and I'm just glad to be a part of this one, too. Bronze may seem like a step down from what we were expecting, but with the challenges we had and the hurdles we had to get over, it was a great ending."
During the second heat on Sunday, Holcomb strained a calf muscle while pushing the USA-1 sled off the starting block. Into the wee hours of Monday morning, he received treatment on the leg. There were whispers around Sanki Sliding Center that the reigning Olympic four-man bobsled champion driver might not be able to compete in the final two heats of the two-man competition. Knowing Holcomb, it would have taken amputation to keep him out of the sled.
"I let my horse here take over," Holcomb said, pointing at Langton. "We pushed harder than I expected, and going into that last heat, we knew we had to bring everything we had if we wanted to bring home a medal. There was a lot of pressure."
Holcomb and Langton pushed the BMW sled off the block for a start time of 4.92 seconds, and they maintained a hold on third place with a third heat time of 56.41 seconds. The competition was closing in, and the race for bronze came down to the fourth and final heat.
Holcomb and Langton powered USA-1 to a start time of 4.88 seconds to remain in medal contention and maneuvered through the course quickly enough to end a 62-year two-man bobsled Olympic medal drought for Team USA.
"This is the second 62-year medal drought that I've broken, which is awesome," Holcomb said. "If anybody else has a 62-year medal drought they need to break, just let me know and we'll try to help you."
Since snapping a 62-year gold medal drought in four-man bobsled at the 2010 Vancouver Games in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, and has since had his sights set on accomplishing the one thing missing from his bobsled resume: an Olympic medal in the two-man event.
"It was the missing piece," said Holcomb, 33, who spent seven years honing his craft in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. "It's overwhelming. There's so much that goes into this, and there are dozens of people behind this team. We may be the only two standing up here, but there's a huge team behind us pushing us."