REDMOND, Wash. — May 24, 2010 — Before the Vancouver Olympics, the United States had endured a 62-year gold medal drought in the four-man bobsled event.
It was perhaps only fitting that a hardcore techie and gamer helped the U.S. finally claim a gold medal in the event, especially because the gold medal he won was literally computing to the core. All the medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics contained metal recycled from computers and other electronics.
Earning a medal made from recycled computer parts was an apt prize for Steven Holcomb, driver of the U.S. gold medal winning bobsled team. Holcomb, a self-described computer geek, incorporates video games into his training and is a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). In fact, he’s not just a bobsled driver; he’s also the unofficial U.S. Bobsled team’s computer technician.
“I have people every day asking me questions, and I’m always working on a computer,” Holcomb says. “I like it, though. I’ve always been interested in computers since I was a little kid.”
Steve Holcomb with the gold medal he won during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.
Holcomb had planned to go to college and major in computer science before his bobsledding career took off. Now, as he basks in the victory at the Winter Games and enjoys a little downtime, he plans to brush up on his IT skills this summer and get MCP certification in Windows 7.
Holcomb visited the Microsoft campus recently to film a video for Microsoft Learning. He has a paid endorsement contract with Microsoft.
As for getting MCP certification for Windows, he’s not expecting it to be a cakewalk. “If it’s anything like the last time I got my certification, it’s going to be a challenge,” he says. “But at least it’ll be a nice change of pace from having to wake up early and go work out.”
Holcomb hopes to eventually land a job in the IT industry, but for the immediate future, bobsledding is his career. (“Gotta defend the gold in four years,” he says.) Fortunately, bobsledding training incorporates one of his longtime tech loves: gaming.
In addition to sprints and long hours in the weight room, Holcomb hones his hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness on the Xbox. His virtual training began in earnest several years ago, when he was bored waiting to get back into a bobsled. (During summer months many skiers travel to the Southern Hemisphere to train, but there are no bobsled tracks down there, so the team can only train on a track in winter.) He played a ton of games in the week leading up to his first day on the track. When he finally got in the bobsled, something clicked.
Steve Holcomb in the driver’s seat with the team that won a gold medal for the U.S. in bobsledding for the first time in 62 years.
“As soon as I was on the track, I noticed how much easier driving was – things moved slower, I could interpret everything that was going on, I could tune out everything that wasn’t on the track,” Holcomb says. “Sure enough, when I play video games my bobsledding improves.”
Now, his coaches don’t bother him when they find him playing Xbox; they know he’s training.
Holcomb is definitely a PC (“I’m a big fan of Windows 7”), but says he’s happy to help out teammates with technical problems no matter what type of computer they run. The close-knit team celebrated on the medal stand in Whistler with a brief version of the Holcy Dance, a dance move named after Holcomb. Then they soaked up the scene while the stage, wired for an Usher concert following their ceremony, shook during the national anthem. “It was pretty much the most intense Star Spangled Banner you’d ever heard,” he says. “It was awesome.”
Holcomb was on cloud nine until he returned to his home in Park City, Utah, and discovered his Xbox had been stolen out of his car. “It was a like a death in the family,” he says. The real pain was losing all the hundreds of hours of saved games. He’s slowly restocking game titles and catching up. He just finished Modern Warfare 2 and is waiting to start over on Fable 2. (“I’m pretty bummed about that one. I had 500 hours invested in Fable 2.”)
In the meantime, his post-Winter Games tour (The Today Show, Letterman, NASCAR, White House visit, the Preakness and Indianapolis 500) continues. It isn’t too bad talking to the press, he concedes. “But you are cutting into my video game time.”