SOCHI, Russia — U.S. bobsled pilot Steven Holcomb planned to sleep well Saturday night, but he wouldn't say the same for his German competitors.

Holcomb's four-man crew sits in fourth place after the first day of competition, just one-hundredth of a second behind Germany's top sled. It's not the placement that the defending Olympic champion wanted, but he insisted he still liked his team's chances.

"We're not upset," Holcomb said after his first two runs Saturday. "We're a hundredth out of third place. The Germans know how we perform under pressure, and I'm sure they're going to have a hard time sleeping tonight."

Alexander Zubkov of Russia continued to exploit home-ice advantage here, as the veteran bobsled pilot put down two strong runs and will take a slim lead into Sunday's finals.

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

The Latvian team stunned many by finishing second , just .04 of a second off Zubkov's time. Latvian driver Oskars Melbardis — who finished ninth at the world championships last year — finished fifth in the two-man competition earlier this week.

Holcomb planned to watch the Latvians' blistering second run in an effort to better understand the course that has perplexed so many drivers throughout these Games. He also intended to review his own performance, which included a mistake on the fifth curve during the second run.

"I made a mistake on Curve 5, but I'm not sure where the Latvians picked up so much time," he said. "I can't go back and change today, but I can fix it tomorrow."

Holcomb is still struggling with a left calf strain he suffered during the two-man event. Despite the injury, he and his crew of Steve Langton, Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt broke the track's start record on their first run.

"It's not painful, but it's still not firing as well as I like," Holcomb said. "It's unfortunate that four years of training comes down to 'I sprained my calf.'"

The USA-2 sled, piloted by Nick Cunningham, is in 11th place after a steering part broke on the team's first run.

"We all have a love-hate relationship with this track," Cunningham said. "One run you're blazing fast, the next you're slow.… With this track you make one mistake and you're falling back. This track is a headache."

Zubkov, who won gold in the two-man event, clearly has a more functional relationship with the track. While other drivers are still trying to figure out the Sanki Sliding Center, his familiarity — he has taken an estimated 300 runs here — has helped him dominate these Games.

"Our rivals are very serious and tomorrow will be a very difficult race," Zubkov said Saturday. "We will fight until the very end. It is a serious competition and a serious race."

With only .17 of a second between the Russian and fourth-place U.S. sled, German pilot Maximilian Arndt suggested Zubkov could be caught Sunday.

"We will see if we can still tease him," Arndt said.

sstclair@tribune.com

Twitter: @stacystclair