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Sliding to Gold
Journey to the top...
As we review the exciting month of selection races in this newsletter, the team is already looking ahead to the 2011-2012 international competitive season. The World Cup team will kick off the first of eight races in Igls, Austria this month as they vie for the coveted title of World Cup champion.
While all of the World Cup events will take place internationally, the season finale will be hosted by the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid, NY. Mark your calendars for when our squad returns to their home track to compete for a chance to be named World Champion from February 17-26, 2012.
This will prove to be an exciting season, so get your cowbells ready and follow along as our national team represents each and every one of you on their quest for gold.
A complete season schedule and review of events can be found by visiting our website at www.usbsf.com. We look forward to seeing you trackside!
U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation
Marketing and Communications Manager
2011-2012 National Team announced
The recently named 2011-2012 national team is composed of a strong roster of powerful and determined athletes who are eager to stake their claim on the FIBT World Cup and World Championship podiums. This year's team includes 11 Olympians, three of whom are two-time Olympians.
Vancouver 2010 Olympic gold medalist Steven Holcomb will drive USA 1, while 2010 Olympian and U.S. Army Sgt. John Napier will pilot USA II. The men's teams are aiming to earn enough points throughout the season to qualify a third sled for the 2012 FIBT World Championships.
The men's bobsled push athletes are an explosive group that features world push champion Steve Langton as well as two Olympic gold medalists, Justin Olsen and Curt Tomasevicz. The pool includes Jesse Beckom, Chris Fogt, Langton, Olsen, Johnny Quinn, Tomasevicz and Laszlo Vandracsek.
This season's women's bobsled team is a mix of veterans and rookie athletes. Olympian Bree Schaaf, who is in her fifth season as a bobsledder, will pilot USA 1, while Jazmine Fenlator will drive USA II in only her second season in the driver's seat. USA III will be led by Elana Meyers, who switched to the driver's seat after earning Olympic bronze as a brakeman in Vancouver.
The women's bobsled push athletes are an athletically diverse group who formerly competed in gymnastics, tackle football, track and field, volleyball and weightlifting. The pool includes Emily Azevedo, Katie Eberling, Ingrid Marcum, Brittany Reinbolt and Hillary Werth.
On the skeleton side, the U.S. is fielding a strong team this year, which provided for two very competitive weeks of racing during team selection races. The three-woman World Cup team is led by two-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender, who is simultaneously competing in weightlifting and gunning for a spot on the London 2012 Olympic team. Uhlaender will be joined on the circuit by reigning national champion Annie O'Shea and national bronze medalist Kimber Gabryszak.
The men's skeleton World Cup team is a trio of veterans who grew up together in the sport and motivate each other daily. The team includes Olympian John Daly, Matt Antoine and Kyle Tress.
Skeleton athletes who will compete on the Intercontinental Cup tour include Rachelle Rasmussen, Savannah Graybill, Luke Schulz, Tom Santagato and Greg West.
Log on to www.usbsf.com to follow the team as they slide towards gold this season.
Athletes pumped for new season
Bobsled and skeleton team back on track
|USA I four-man team loading into the |
BMW Night Train
As the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, NY opened two weeks ago, there was an overwhelming feeling of excitement in the air. The U.S. bobsled and skeleton athletes have spent the past seven months working tirelessly on land to prepare themselves to step on the ice and once again slide toward their goals.
The track was originally supposed to open last Monday, but the team had to wait until Thursday to take their first runs of the season due to unseasonably warm temperatures in Lake Placid. Opening day being pushed back has become an annual routine for veteran athletes, but they still seem to get anxious waiting for the big day.
"When it gets to be August the weather starts to change and all you want to do is get on the ice and get going again," said 2010 Olympic skeleton athlete John Daly.
"In other sports you don't spend six months out of the office in preparation doing everything physically you can to get ready," said 2010 Olympic bobsledder Bree Schaaf. "So it's SO nice to get back to business applying everything you've been working on."
This year the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation's pool of athletes seems to be a perfect mixture of rookies who have never been on the ice before and veterans who have multiple Olympic appearances and a couple thousand runs under their belt.
"It's more exciting for me to see some of the younger guys take their first trips on the ice and get a taste of what the sport is," Curt Tomasevicz said.
One of the more experienced members of the national team, bobsled brakeman Tomasevicz has been to two Olympic Winter Games and earned gold as part of USA-1, aka Team Night Train, at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Tomasevicz is invested in bettering the team as a whole and has used his experience to coach some of the rookies and show them the ropes of the sport.
"The more teams we can have the more competitive it gets and everybody comes out a better athlete," Tomasevicz said.
Last season the Night Train team was focused on adjusting to a new team, with the addition of Langton after Steve Mesler retired following the 2010 Games. They still managed to earn two golds and a bronze on the World Cup circuit.
"This year we hopefully have that consistency where we can rely on each other and have top three pushes at every track and there's not a race we enter that we don't think we can win, especially the World Championships," Tomasevicz said.
This year the U.S. has a home track advantage at worlds, which will take place in Lake Placid, Feb. 17-26, 2012. Tomasevicz won four-man gold at worlds in 2009, the last time the event was in Lake Placid, and he can already feel the pressure on himself and his teammates to win this year.
"It's pressure we put on ourselves because we know that anything but first place will be disappointing to us," Tomasevicz said.
Tomasevicz and fellow bobsledder Schaaf are two of several
|Women's bobsled team powering off starting line|
athletes who credit their readiness for the season to living at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in the off-season.
"What helps you push a 400lb. bobsled is strength and speed," Schaaf said. "We're in the weight room three or four days a week, we're sprinting three or four days a week, doing tons of plyometrics, getting that explosive strength.
"It's catering towards five seconds of work, but of really explosive, intense work - pushing that sled and trying to accelerate it and get the most out of it that you can when the clock starts."
Schaaf came in fifth place in Vancouver with brakeman Emily Azevedo and then went on to have her most successful season yet by finishing eighth in World Cup standings last year. But she knows she can improve on that this season. How?
"I'm not gonna get an emergency surgery in the middle of the season!"
Schaaf missed a few weeks of the season in January due to an emergency appendectomy. With her appendix gone she is confident she can walk away with a few World Cup and World Championship medals. But Schaaf has a bigger, long-term goal in mind: four-woman bobsled.
On the World Cup circuit, World Championships and Olympic Games, men race both two-man and four-man while women only race two-man. At the end of last season, Schaaf made history by driving the first four-woman sled in the U.S. She plans to "butt her way in" and fight to get the event added to the World Cup circuit, and, she hopes, eventually on the Olympic program.
The 31-year-old said she is dedicated to staying in the sport another 10 years if that's what it takes for a four-woman event to be added. Schaaf is entering a new chapter of her sliding career. The former college volleyball player said she has always defined herself as a volleyball-player-turned-bobsledder but is now entering her 10th season on ice (first five were spent as a skeleton athlete) and realizes she has been sliding longer than she spent playing volleyball.
"It's easy to feel like a stranger in bobsled because it's such an odd sport and it takes a really unique skill to be able to drive," Schaaf said. "[Knowing how long I've been in the sport] makes me feel prepared, it helps you own that role."
|John Daly push start|
Similarly, Daly has officially been sliding for a decade and is entering his 11th season as a men's skeleton athlete. Daly believes that after all that time he is finally starting to come into his own.
"This is the kind of sport where you learn something different every day... You're always figuring out how to become faster and how to become better," Daly said.
"Me and Matt Antoine have both been doing this for a long time. We're still young guys but we're starting our later years in the sport and I think this is when we're gonna start to really shine."
Daly and the rest of the U.S. skeleton team are expected to see great results over the next couple seasons as they slide towards the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The team has been working with Grant Schaffner, president of Protostar Engineering, who is developing faster and smarter sleds for the U.S. Daly says he has complete confidence in Schaffner's sleds and will be sliding on the third version of the sled this season, which should help his performance and results.
"I'd like to be top six overall ranked in the world and that would mean top six at each race as well and hopefully medal at World Championships," Daly said.
Those may seem like lofty goals but Daly is feeling stronger than ever and this year's national push championships, where he placed second, showed him that he is also faster than ever. As far as a World Championships medal goes, he has had great success in Lake Placid, where he held the track record for 15 months up until Antoine broke it in March.
"Me and my teammates, Matt and Kyle [Tress], we'll all be pushing each other and honestly I think it's a realistic goal to see two or maybe even three U.S. [men's skeleton] athletes on the podium at World Championships."
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Randy Price Memorial Award winners announced
Meghan Sullivan and Tom Santagato honored to receive award
In 2003 the U.S. skeleton team said goodbye to one of its finest athletes and friends, Randy Price. He died after a seven-year battle with thyroid cancer. In his three years as a skeleton athlete Price competed on tracks in Calgary, Lake Placid, Lillehammer and Park City, and left behind a legacy marked by his sportsmanship, persistence and passion.
Eight years later it is clear the spirit and memory of Price is going strong through the Randy Price Memorial Fund. Through the fund, Price's family annually awards the Randy Price Memorial Award to two skeleton athletes as a means of helping them achieve their dreams and celebrating others who exude Price's characteristics.
|Darwin Price, Meghan, Tom, Grace Price and Molly Price|
Last weekend the eighth annual Randy Price Memorial Award was presented to Meghan Sullivan and Tom Santagato, both of whom were very surprised upon hearing their names called.
"Obviously it's a tremendous honor," Santagato said. "If you read the website and hear stories about the type of person Randy was and everything that he put himself through, to receive an award in his honor really feels pretty good."
"It was an awesome feeling to know that your peers and your coaches think that you're a good sport and know that you want to be successful, which is what the award was all about," Sullivan said.
Sullivan and Santagato are both relatively new to the sport, entering their second and third seasons respectively, and have stood out among their teammates for their drive and dedication to the sport.
Sullivan, originally from Bluemont, Va., was a track and field athlete at the University of Mary Washington for one semester before she saw skeleton at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and decided to submit an athlete recruitment form to the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
After being invited to Lake Placid to learn more about the sport and later to compete in the 2010 U.S. Skeleton National Push Championship, Sullivan realized she was a natural and could compete with the best in the U.S., which was surprising for her young age - Sullivan is currently 19 and believes she is the youngest woman competing at this weekend's team selection races. Her natural ability in the sport qualified her for an America's Cup race in her rookie season, where she finished seventh.
"I think it was a blessing that it was at Lake Placid because I got an introduction to an international race on my home track so I don't feel like I'll be super shocked and super stressed about the competition the first time I'm on a new track," Sullivan said.
This season Sullivan hopes to race the first half of the America's Cup circuit and potentially a few races in Europe - all while balancing the workload of college. She is now taking online courses through Penn State, which has helped her time management skills to say the least. Her final draft of a six-page paper is due just moments after the final team selection race. But Sullivan is one slider who is going to do whatever it takes to succeed, especially because of how passionate she is about the sport.
"I like the fact that it takes the best of what I did in track and field," Sullivan said. "In track some of the distances are long, like I hated the 400 meters but I loved the short sprints and with skeleton I get the short sprints and then top speed the rest of the way down the hill. It's like a giant adrenaline rush."
Like Sullivan, Santagato also found himself in Lake Placid after seeing the sport on TV, Googling it and sending in a recruitment form in 2008. By December 2009, Satangato had left his job as a teacher in Queens, New York, and moved up to Lake Placid to train full-time for skeleton.
Although his family thought he was crazy when they first learned of the opportunity, their support is a large part of the reason Santagato is still in the sport.
"My family, from the get-go, has been very supportive and they said to me, 'It's now or never - you're never going to get an opportunity like this again so you might as well jump on it,' so I did and I haven't looked back since," Santagato said.
The experience of playing football and lacrosse at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., has helped him get his start in skeleton but he has since become a student of the sport.
"Explosiveness and quickness definitely works to your advantage in skeleton because of the start," Santagato said. "At first I was just relying on my athletic ability and then I slowly started developing the mental part of the game too. That takes time but I think I'm finally starting to come into my element and realize what it takes to be an elite-level skeleton athlete."
Santagato gained his first international racing experience last season when he competed in all but one America's Cup race. At first he struggled with learning a new track every week and dealing with the logistics of traveling from city-to-city while focusing on his performance but Santagato quickly adjusted and found great success the second half of the season. He finished third in the overall America's Cup standings.
"I started to have this mindset that I'm just gonna do everything that I possibly can to prepare and whatever happens happens because I can't be mad at myself if I did everything I could," Santagato said. "With that attitude and that preparation came results and they just kept coming and I was really fortunate. It wasn't something that I planned and I never anticipated that I would do that well but the hard work paid off."
27-year-old Santagato has his teacher's license, is a certified personal trainer and even has aspirations of becoming a fireman in New York City but he is putting all of that on hold for now to commit everything he has to improving himself as a skeleton athlete.
"I just love the challenge of it every single day, not only overcoming nerves but also the mental part of getting down," Santagato said.
"[Competing for U.S. skeleton] really broadens your horizons and you get more of a perspective so for that I've been very thankful."
For more information regarding the Randy Price Memorial Award, please visit http://rpmfund.org.
Coach's Corner with Mike Kohn
Mike Kohn competed as a bobsled athlete from 1990-2010 and retired after competing in his second Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Kohn won bronze as a member of Brian Shimer's four-man team at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and competed as a pilot in 2010. Kohn was hired as an America's Cup coach for developing pilots last season, and was recently hired as an assistant coach for the national team.
|Mike Kohn, 2002 Olympic bronze medalist|
I accomplished what I wanted in my career as an athlete as a two-time Olympian, and now I have new ambitions in the sport as a coach. You don't get a medal around your neck as a coach, but there's still satisfaction in seeing your athletes succeed. The long hours involved in planning, organizing, supervising, motivating and coaching is worth it when your team does well.
My goal for this season is for our men's and women's bobsled teams to sweep the podium at 2012 World Championships. That may seem ambitious, but we're not going to get there unless we shoot for it. We have a talented team, and winning all nine medals isn't outside the realm of possibilities.
A men's two-man Olympic medal has been allusive for our team, so our goal is to step it up and end that drought in 2014. We have gold, silver and bronze medals in men's four-man and women's bobsled from the past three Olympics, so now it's time to continue that tradition while adding some hardware to the two-man discipline as well.
The most important thing for me as a coach, other than winning medals, is to make sure we are good representatives of our country. We have a responsibility to make contributions to our community, family, sponsors, society, our country...our athletes will be held to a high standard on and off the ice. The USA Bobsled & Skeleton team will be held to a high standard, and we want to honor everyone that we represent as Team USA.
Athlete Highlight: Justin Olsen
San Antonio, Texas native Justin Olsen began the sport of bobsled in 2007, making the World Cup team in his first season. For the 2008-2009 season, Olsen joined Steve Holcomb's team, winning two silver and two bronze medals in the first half of the World Cup tour. Olsen was a member of Holcomb's Night Train four-man bobsled team that made history by winning the 2009 World Championship title before going on to claim Olympic gold at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.
Olsen attended the United States Air Force Academy for one year before trying out for the bobsled team, and enlisted on Jan. 6 as a Pfc. in the New York National Guard working as a Human Resources Specialist. "I already represent my country," he said. "Now I have an opportunity to serve and represent my country at the same time."
He has three younger siblings: Brittany, John and James. Olsen played football in high school and college, and his favorite team is the Green Bay Packers.
|Ask an Athlete- Justin Olsen|
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