KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Alexander Zubkov was given a daunting assignment for his home Olympics. His task: Take to Russian ice and make history, against drivers who have been beating him for years.
Do svidaniya, world!
Zubkov was uncatchable.
He drove Russia to victory in the four-man bobsled race Sunday, adding that gold to his two-man from earlier in the Sochi Games and making him the sixth pilot to sweep those events at an Olympics. Until now, no one had ever achieved that feat on home ice, but this track was built for Zubkov and he proved to be its master.
"We did the impossible," Zubkov said.
He made it look easy. Against the world's best like Latvia's Oskars Melbardis and American recordsetter Steven Holcomb.
Melbardis of Latvia drove to the silver medal, matching his nation's best showing in a Winter Olympic event. And Holcomb, the 2010 four-man champion from Park City, Utah, piloted USA-1 to bronze, ceding his Olympic title but winning his third career medal — tying the most by any U.S. bobsledder — and giving his nation seven sliding medals at the Sochi Games, tops among all countries.
"We came here to win a medal and we did just that," Holcomb said. "It was a tough race. It wasn't easy. We kind of knew Zubkov was going to be fast and really hard to beat and the Latvians had a great day today and pulled away, but to come away with a bronze medal, we're pretty happy with it. It was a tight race and we're pretty satisfied."
Zubkov had a slim lead entering Sunday's final two runs and predicted the title would be decided in the third heat.
Naturally, he was right. That's where he got all the cushion he needed.
Zubkov, with push athletes Alexey Negodaylo, Dmitry Trunenkov, Alexey Voevoda in his sled, took one look at the standings after the leaders finished their third runs, clenched a fist and punched the air.
He knew it was over.
"It means a great deal to be able to win in Russia," Zubkov said.
A 39-year-old driver who hadn't won a single two- or four-man race all season on the World Cup circuit was perfect in Sochi. Zubkov wound up 0.09 seconds faster than Melbardis, who was 0.30 seconds up on Holcomb.
"I talked to Zubkov a couple years ago and asked him the first day he slid, and he told me he was 6 years old," said U.S. bobsledder Justin Olsen, a push athlete in the USA-2 sled piloted by Nick Cunningham that finished 12th. "So he's been sliding for 33 years. Holcomb's been sliding since 2001."