By Gary Sheftick, Army News ServiceFebruary 20, 2018
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Four-man bobsled competition this weekend will be one of the final medal events of the PyeongChang Olympics, and it will culminate years of training for four Army athletes.
Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Weber practiced for the winter games while deployed in Afghanistan last year, while Sgt. Justin Olsen, Sgt. Nick Cunningham and Capt. Chris Fogt were already training with the U.S. National Team.
"Every free moment I had, I'd be in the gym or I'd be running sprints or pushing sleds," Weber said of his tour in Afghanistan.
The Special Forces medic even ran laps around the forward operating base during a mortar attack.
"You can say I'm a little bit of an adrenaline junky," Weber said, explaining with a smile that the mortar attack raised his adrenaline levels and helped him clock a faster time than ever before.
This week Weber will be pushing a new bobsled across the starting gate at the Olympic Sliding Center along with two fellow Soldiers in the same sled.
THE BIG FOUR
Three-time Olympian Fogt, who earned a bronze medal at the last games in Sochi, will be the sled's brakeman. Another three-peat Olympian and gold-medalist from the 2010 Vancouver games, Olsen will drive the sled.
Olsen, at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, is Team USA's largest bobsled pilot.
"For bobsled, you have to be fast and big and strong," Fogt said. "The bobsled weighs about 400 pounds. You have to get that thing going from zero to as fast as you can ... in a short period of time."
Fogt himself is six feet and 205 pounds while Weber is six feet and weighs 223 pounds. The fourth member of their bobsled team is civilian Carlo Valdes, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. He played wide receiver for the UCLA football team a year before moving to track and field and earning prominence throwing the javelin.
Their new 400-pound sled was tested earlier this year at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid, New York, before going on the World Cup circuit. The team of four placed ninth in Koenigssee, Germany, Jan. 18 as they qualified the sled for the Olympics.
"We've made some advancements with this new sled," Olsen said. "Overall it's just a larger sled. It allows for a bigger team to be relatively hidden inside the sled and be more aerodynamic. I'm one of the larger pilots on tour and with the four-man, you can't really tell that."
NASCAR AND REMEMBRANCE
Olsen compared bobsled to the NASCAR racing circuit, due to the importance both place in aerodynamics, vehicle design and maintenance. In fact, the sled in which Olsen earned his Olympic gold medal in Vancouver was designed by former NASCAR racer Geoff Bodine.
That sled, Night Train, was driven by the late Steven Holcomb. So was Night Train 2, the sled in which Fogt earned bronze four years ago in Sochi.
Holcomb himself was a former Army World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP Soldier who broke a 60-year drought for Team USA in four-man bobsled when he snagged gold in Vancouver. The last USA Olympic gold in that sport had been in 1948.
Holcomb was a member of the Utah National Guard from 1999 to 2006 when he began having health issues and almost went blind. Even after his vision improved, he felt that the sight issues had enabled him to "feel" the bobsled course better than other pilots.
He was found dead in his room at Lake Placid May 6, 2017, with a diagnosis of fluid in his lungs. This year USA bobsledders have dedicated their performance in PyeongChang to Holcomb's memory.
MENTOR AND ROLE MODEL
Weber feels resilience is one of the most important qualities he brings to the team. He's had to overcome a number of obstacles to make the Olympic team, he said.
"Aside from having to train while running missions and being deployed, it's not always easy walking into a new place where you're working and tell the people ... 'hey, I want to do this absolutely crazy thing because I think I can go to the Olympics.'"
Weber is a member of the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colorado, and said leaders there have given him tremendous support and allowed him time to train in bobsled.
While going through the Special Forces Q Course about eight years ago, Weber picked up a magazine and read about fellow Soldier Olsen winning a gold medal in bobsled and it inspired him to take up the sport.
Later, Olsen became his mentor and role model. "I joke with him all the time: If he's going to scrape his knee on the way into the sled, I'm like OK, I need to scrape my knee on the way into the sled," Weber said.
Now he's pushing the sled right behind Olsen.
"Having him be the reason that I came into the sport and now being in the sled with him at the Olympics, it's 100 percent unreal," Weber said. "It's come full circle and it's awesome."
Weber was actually in back of the bobsled when Olsen made his first run as a pilot three years ago, moving up from brakeman to driver. "He believed in me," Olsen said.
"He just got back from a deployment, and he was right in the back of the sled, torn hamstring, he didn't care," Olsen said.
Weber said nothing will stop him from competing.
"Anything can happen and I'll get out there and perform the next day," he said. "It doesn't matter what it is."
Weber feels Fogt brings veteran leadership to the team.
"He got us so fired up at the line, it was absolutely incredible," Weber said of the captain at the starting gate in Koenigssee. "He really helps bring out the best in everybody on the team."
Fogt, a military intelligence officer, deployed to Iraq for a year after competing in the Vancouver Olympics. He said the work ethic there and elsewhere across the Army translates well to sports.
He believes hard work is the biggest factor to success in the Olympics. Athletes, like Soldiers, must keep trying to improve themselves, he said.
"What the Army has taught me the most is mental toughness," Fogt said. "There's times you're in the field, there's times you don't eat for a couple of days, there's times you don't sleep."
He went to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, twice. "You don't shower for 15 days, you eat maybe one hot meal a day and you realize that your body can do it," Fogt said.
"Brand new privates came to NTC and it was easy to see them grow and develop while in the box," he said. You realize the mental toughness, that you can do hard things if you put your mind to it -- and bobsled is the same way. The support that the Army gives us is huge."
WORLD-CLASS ATHLETE PROGRAM
Both Fogt and Olsen said that without the support the Army provides, they wouldn't be able to compete.
"WCAP allows for us to train pretty stress-free and do our sport," Olsen said. "I think that's one of the reasons why we've got myself as a medalist, Chris Fogt's a medalist from Sochi and hopefully we can keep that medal train rolling."
Olsen said he's glad to have the opportunity to wear the uniform and represent Soldiers around the world. "We just hope that we can make Soldiers proud," he said.
(Editor's note: Sgt. Nick Cunningham, WCAP, will pilot USA Sled #2 in PyeongChang, Feb. 24-25, with three other athletes.)