The defending Olympic champion four-man USA-1 bobsled team, more widely known as the "Night Train," is back in 2014 and again piloted by Steve Holcomb, one of the most decorated bobsledders in American history.
The 33-year-old Park City, Utah native believes he is better than ever, having battled back from depression that led to an attempt on own his life in 2007 after a degenerative eye disease nearly left him blind. He chronicled his difficult journey in a 2012 book, "But Now I See." Today, Holcomb is viewed as one of the world's best drivers because of his ability to drive by the feel and instinct he developed by not relying so heavily on his vision.
The team's 2010 victory in Vancouver marked the first Olympic gold medal for the United States in the quad event since 1948, but Holcomb notes that ending the drought doesn't mean the team is any less motivated this Olympics.
"We've got a medal to defend," Holcomb told SB Nation this past September. "I've never been in this position. There's no American alive that has been in this position."
USA-1 was christened "Night Train" in 2009 when builder Geoff Bodine's Bo-Dyn Bobsled Company provided the team a plain black prototype sled they immediately preferred, but had no time to paint before competitive races began. The team will have their work cut out if they are to repeat as champion, but enter as the gold-medal favorite with an updated "Night Train 2" model and following a fantastic World Cup season. Still, longtime classes of the sport, Germany and Russia -- the two teams that bested the third-place Americans in the 2013 world championships -- will be strong candidates for the podium, with Switzerland posing as a credible threat as well.
Team member Curt Tomasevicz, a former Nebraska Cornhuskers football player who is in his 10th season sliding and will attend his third Olympic Games, believes entering as the reigning Olympic titleholder adds no additional stress.
"The pressure we have is self-inflicted," said the team's brakeman. "I think that's the best pressure to have, to have that from within, that motivation. It probably has changed a little bit since 2010, but at the same time, I'm just as motivated because I know what that feeling is, and I know that there's no feeling like it. You taste it once, you want it again."
The Night Train is no longer comprised of the same individuals, however. Shortly after the gold-medal run in 2010, Steve Mesler, a converted track athlete who operated out of the third position and competed for nine years, announced his retirement. His place was swiftly filled by Steve Langton, formerly of USA-2, and whom Tomasevicz called "the best athlete we have on the team."
Then, after helping the team take bronze at the world championships last February, Justin Olsen, out of the second position, strained a muscle in his leg while training in June and had to sit out until mid-August. Enter Chris Fogt, another former USA-2 pusher, who was abruptly -- and a bit controversially -- inserted into the lineup.
"Initially I felt like I was written off, you know, kind of, 'He's done, he's not going to be ready,'" Olsen told SB Nation late last year, his gold medal from Vancouver displayed beside him. "You kind of question that kind of stuff. You have an Olympic medal and four medals at world championships, and there's no indication that you're not going to be ready for that again. But yeah, I will have the opportunity to race with somebody. I think that will give me an opportunity to showcase that I am healthy, I am progressing, and I'll just be ready for whatever opportunity comes."
For Sochi, Olsen joins push athletes Johnny Quinn and Dallas Robinson in propelling driver Nick Cunningham in USA-2.
"Justin is an amazing athlete," said Tomasevicz. "He's been a great teammate of mine for the last six years, so it's tough not competing with him.
"We like to think of the Night Train not just as a specific set of guys, it's an overall idea, this aura, I guess -- this attitude in a sense," he continued. "We love having that overall persona, and to be known as Team Night Train, rather than Team Holcomb or individual athletes. It's more fun to have that symbol, that Night Train kind of logo that's kind of been developed. That's pretty cool."
And with one of the premier drivers in the world in Holcomb again guiding America's top team, there's a strong chance the Night Train, this time destination Sochi, will vie for gold once more.
"We were just in Canada and we set a new start record in their push facility four days ago, which was our third day together pushing," Holcomb said in September. "So I'm pretty happy with that and as we start to work more together, it's going to come around. I think we're going to get even better and faster, and with the new equipment coming out, we're going to be trouble for everybody else."