(AP) — Steven Holcomb, the longtime U.S. bobsledding star who drove to three Olympic medals after beating a disease that nearly robbed him of his eyesight, was found dead in Lake Placid, New York, on Saturday.
He was 37.
The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Bobsled and Skeleton announced the death of the 2010 gold medalist, the cause of which remains unclear. However, officials said there were no indications of foul play after a preliminary investigation at the Olympic Training Center where Holcomb was found in his room. An autopsy was tentatively scheduled for Sunday.
The native of Park City, Utah, was a three-time Olympian, 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.
“It would be easy to focus on the loss in terms of his Olympic medals and enormous athletic contributions to the organization, but 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,” said Darrin Steele, the federation’s CEO who had known Holcomb for two decades.
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.
He also was a former world champion in both two-man and four-man competition.
“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. His final victory came in Lake Placid last December, when he drove to a two-man win.
He 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 at race time, Holcomb turned icy serious.
He won 60 World Cup medals, plus 10 more at the world championships and three in the Olympics, making him one of the most decorated pilots in the world. And when he teamed with Steven Langton to win Olympic bronze in two-man at Sochi in 2014, he snapped another 62-year U.S. drought in that event — just as he had four years earlier in the four-man Olympic race.
“If anyone else has a 62-year medal drought you need to break, let me know, I’ll help you,” Holcomb said at the time.
His winter-sports career started as a skier when he was 6, and he started as a push athlete in bobsled in 1998. He was an alternate on the 2002 Olympic team, and has been the driver of USA-1 — the honor bestowed to America’s best pilot — for more than a decade.
His death quickly resonated through the Olympic community.
“Incredibly sad to hear about the passing of @StevenHolcomb,” U.S. women’s soccer star Carli Lloyd tweeted. “Deepest sympathies go out to his loved ones.”
Holcomb revealed in recent years that there was also a troubled side, including battles with depression and a failed hotel-room suicide attempt 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 the 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 simply 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.
“Dreadful, dreadful news,” bobsledding broadcaster Martin Haven said on Twitter. “Holcy was one of the friendliest, most open guys you could hope to meet… I’m heartbroken.”
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.