By Tim Hipps, IMCOMMarch 5, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (March 5, 2012) -- Spc. Justin Olsen, the newest Olympic gold medalist in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program's stable of elite bobsledders, won two gold medals at the 2012 FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships Feb. 18-26, in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Olsen, 24, a native of San Antonio who is stationed at Lake Placid, helped push Team USA to victory in both the four-man and team events against the best bobsledders in the world.
"This might be the best I have pushed the entire season in my whole pushing career," Olsen said. "I think we're really starting to come together as a solid team. We didn't have any guppies this season, and that's kind of odd, but to win the last one, we're OK with that."
Steven Holcomb, a former WCAP bobsledder who spent nearly eight years in the Army program, drove both of those sleds to victory and also teamed with Steve Langton of Melrose, Mass., to win Team USA's inaugural gold medal in the two-man event.
"I'm a little overwhelmed," Holcomb said. "You work so hard to get there that when you finally do it takes some time to sink in. It's the first time we've won all three events, so it's a great feeling."
Since joining Holcomb's USA 1 team in September of 2008, Olsen has won an Olympic gold medal and two gold medals and a bronze at the world championships.
"Three out of the last four years, we've been crowned a world champion, and obviously one of those was at the Olympics," Olsen said. "So we are a team to contend for the medals in Sochi."
Sochi, Russia, is the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and Langton already is setting his sights on there and beyond.
Making Team USA for the 2011-12 World Cup circuit was more difficult for Olsen than in previous years because he had just completed Army Basic and Advanced Individual Training.
"I went to a combine for the U.S. bobsled team three days after graduating from AIT," Olsen said. "I flew home on a Friday and we tested on Monday. I didn't know how that was going to go. Obviously, I hadn't been training for that kind of stuff. I left April 19th and I got home Sept. 1st -- so that's pretty much the entire off-season that I was doing my military training."
Therefore, Olsen swapped working on being fast, powerful and explosive on ice for rucksack marches and endurance training in the desert.
"The time off kind of helped me in a way," he said. "It got me motivated."
Former WCAP bobsledder Virginia Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Mike Kohn, who now serves as a coach, laid the groundwork for Olsen's decision to join the Army and pursue a spot in the Army's World Class Athlete Program. Holcomb more or less pushed Langton on through the door.
"He was one of the main reasons, in the end, that I decided to go in with it," Olsen said. "I knew that Mike was in, so I wanted to talk with someone who had been in, maybe was a little bit more neutral on the subject, so I asked Steven, and he said, 'I think you should go for it.' He's a big advocate."
Olsen said he had no reservations about joining the Army.
"I've always wanted to be in the military," said Olsen, who played one season of football at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., before returning home to San Antonio. "I just feel like you can't pass it up. After bobsled, I want to be in the military. I want to be a career guy. I'd like to try and get my commission. Once I feel like I'm not athletic enough to be on top and represent the country in the manner that I feel like that I need to, I'll probably step down and fulfill my military career."
Olsen played quarterback for Sandra Day O'Connor High School in Helotes, Texas, just northwest of San Antonio. He discovered bobsledding by attending a combine at the Blossom Athletic Center, where a future Olympian blossomed by exhibiting raw strength, power and speed.
"I figured I would give it a shot, but I didn't even know if they would call me back," recalled Olsen, who measures 6-foot-2, 235 pounds -- prototypical size for a bobsled pusher. "When they asked me to come up to Lake Placid for a much larger tryout, I was a little bit shocked. I asked for a week off from school -- told my professors that I would be gone for a little while, up to Lake Placid."
By then, Olsen had enrolled at Alamo Community College. He was not certain that his teachers believed his excuse for a road trip, but it was an opportunity he could not resist.
"I just showed up in sweat pants and said, 'Alright, let's do this,'" Olsen recalled of his arrival in upstate New York. "I didn't really know what to expect. I just knew that I needed to be in somebody's sled -- sliding."
Despite the initial surprise of competing in a winter sport, Olsen said he quickly fit right in with the bobsledders.
"A little bit of you must be crazy, because not every trip are you going to make it down on all four runners," he said. "Early on, we didn't always make it down. In the first month, we probably rolled like 15 times. For me, it was easy to say this is what I want to do. Some people who never even crashed were like, 'I don't know if I like it.'"
"There was no question for myself. I thought of it more like a gut-check. You think you're tough and stuff, but to have something like that happen, and then you have to go back to the top and push-start it again, knowing it could very well happen again -- you've got to be a little bit whacky."
Olsen can only compare team camaraderie and one other facet of bobsleigh with football, which consumed most of his athletic life.
"Going down the track is more like a roller coaster," he said. "You don't really know what's going on. After two trips, if you had a bad trip, you might feel like you've played an entire football game. You just wake up the next day and everything is sore."
While Olsen solidified his seat in Team USA's No. 1 sled, WCAP teammates Sgt. John Napier and Capt. Chris Fogt represented the Army in Team USA-2 at the World Championships. They were disqualified from the four-man event, however, when one of their pushers slipped on the ice and missed boarding the sled for their second heat.
Napier and Fogt finished sixth aboard USA-2 in the two-man event on Feb. 19.
WCAP Sgt. Dallas Robinson teamed with Nick Cunningham, Jessee Beckom and Johnny Quinn to finish 13th aboard USA-3. Cunningham and Robinson finished ninth aboard USA-3 in the two-man event.
"It was a very good showing for WCAP," Olsen concluded.
FIBT is the abbreviation for Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing, which was founded on Nov. 23, 1923 by delegates of Great Britain, France and Switzerland, along with representatives from Canada and the United States, meeting at an International Congress in Paris, France. The FIBT headquarters is in Lausanne, Switzerland.