Wanted: A few good bobsledders
Blame it on the Winter Olympics being just two years away and the Summer Games coming up next month. Blame on Dara Torres making it cool for older athletes to continue competing. Blame it on whatever, but there’s a case of Olympic fever in the air.
The fever was evident Monday morning at the Park City High School track, where the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation held the first of several time-and-strength trials to evaluate talent for the upcoming season.
The test attracted a large crowd — a mix of about 20 new athletes and veteran bobsledders, all with various goals in mind. According to Utah Olympic Park public relations coordinator Linda Jager, the top finishers in the speed-and-strength trials will be invited to Calgary, Canada, September 1-5, for the next in the series of athlete evaluations for a spot on the U.S. National Bobsled Team.
"It’s a good group of people," said Utah Olympic Park bobsled coach Pat Brown.
Perhaps one the most recognizable athletes in attendance was Olympic silver medalist Todd Hays who has decided at age 39 to make a comeback with a goal to compete at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
"With the recent success of the older athletes for the Summer Games, it makes you want to give it a try," Hays said. "Forty is the new 30. You still feel great so you might as well have fun."
Of course, Hays is referring to the success of the 41-year-old Torres who earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team last month. Hays isn’t alone in his desire to brush up on the old skills. Hays’ brakeman, Bill Shuffenhauer, who was in the silver medal sled in 2002, was also on the track. Hays is looking for a few more athletes to put in his sled. He says he is hoping for some guys with experience.
"I’m looking for talented veterans," Hays said. "I’ve seen so many guys come out with great skills but it doesn’t transfer onto the push track."
Hays explains that knowing how to push a sled often trumps being the best athlete in the group.
"You get better with experience," he explained. "Every year helps. A lot of my competitors are all older."
Other experienced athletes like Valerie Fleming and Shauna Rohbock were also on the track lending to support to the veterans and hopefuls. They will spend the rest of the week working on their pushing skills.
"We haven’t pushed since February, so we’ve got to get used to pushing a sled," Fleming said.
All of the athletes will spend the afternoons this week at the Utah Olympic Park in the afternoon working on their bobsled push starts for the upcoming championships.
"They’ve got a great facility," Hays said. "It makes it nice with the city and the push track. It makes it a great place to be."
The Push Championships pit all of the national teams against each other for the fastest pushing start time. Bobsledders must push the sled along the ice to gain momentum before jumping in the sled for the quick trip down the track.
Jesse Beckom III, who pushed for Grayson Fertig last winter on the national team made the trip to Park City from Colorado Springs to work on his pushing as well as to check out the new athletes and to offer encouragement.
The time-and-speed trials included a 60-meter sprint, 35-meter sprints while pulling a weighted sled, a shot toss, a vertical jump test, and power cleans and back squat tests conducted in the high school’s weight room. Athletes being tested received scores for each event for a combined total that will help them earn a spot on the national team.
Some of the new athletes on the track brought impressive resumes with them. Ingrid Markham was a bobsledder a few years ago and has been competing in Olympic weightlifting. She said she is participating in the trials to get back in the national ranking system.
Another new athlete, Bashir Ramzy, was a qualifier in long jump, 110-meter hurdles and triple jump at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials this summer but was hampered by an injury to his knee that kept him from making the Olympic team. Although, the 29-year-old said his track career is far from over, he sees bobsled as a possible second career in the years to come.
Joining him is Jerome Avery, who is going to Beijing this summer. He is a guide for a visually-impaired sprinter, Josiah Jamison, one of America’s best hopes in the upcoming Paralympics. Avery tried to make the Olympic trials in track this summer but missed earning a spot at the event by two places.
Both were invited by Ivan Radcliff, longtime national team member who resides in Park City.
A few more camps will be held for the national team before the push trials in Canada in the fall.
A similar trial will be held Aug. 16 at 9 a.m. to recruit new athletes on to the developmental team. Brown invites all interested locals who want to become a bobsled or skeleton drivers to come out for the trials. Brown is currently searching for athletes ages 14-24. For more information, visit http://www.usbsf.com.
A similar test 10 years ago helped the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation identify Olympic gold medal winner Tristan Gale and U.S. World Cup champion Zach Lund. Both went from being skiers to sliders after showing potential in the camp.
"It can happen that easy," Brown said. "As long as you’ve got some athletic ability, we want you out here."
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