SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 7, 2013) -- Sgt. Justin Olsen, with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, helped push former WCAP bobsled driver Steven Holcomb to a track record and bronze medal at the 2013 Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships, Feb. 3, in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Olsen, 25, is a native of Lubbock, Texas, who played quarterback at Sandra Day O'Connor High School in Helotes before joining the military. He teamed with Steve Langton of Melrose, Mass., and Curt Tomasevicz of Shelby, Neb., to push the USA-1 sled, driven by Holcomb, of Park City, Utah, from sixth place into third with a track-record time of 1 minute, 4.65 seconds in the final heat of the four-man bobsled event.
"I wish I could have done that in all four heats," said Holcomb, who spent seven years in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program honing his craft as an Olympic and world champion bobsled driver. "We were the guys to beat as the defending champions, and it was a tough race. We didn't make it easy on the competition, and I'm happy with how we did."
Olsen was part of Holcomb's "Night Train" team that struck Olympic gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, B.C., Canada, and he has two gold medals from World Championships on his resume. This season, he was honored to be competing on his sport's grandest stage in St. Moritz, where Team USA last won a medal before its 48-year-old bobsled medal drought began. His team brought that drought to an end in 2010.
"I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to represent both the Army and Team USA at the World Championships here in St. Moritz, Switzerland," Olsen said. "Opening Ceremonies was a blast. Bobsled is truly part of their culture here."
The bobsled track begins in St. Moritz and ends in the nearby village of Celerina.
"Citizens of both St. Moritz and Celerina have a passion for the sport of bobsled," Olsen said. "It seems that at some point in their lives they will experience the track firsthand, whether competitively or just for fun. The history of our sport here is rich. They have a tradition of Olympic champions, world champions and true legends in our sport. What I was most impressed with is how they incorporate the snow and ice into everything."
Near the top of the track, an igloo awaits visitors who can step inside and peruse race memorabilia. Away from the track, locals play polo matches atop a frozen lake while bobsleds buzz past them.
"I haven't been able to go watch a match," Olsen said. "But I bet it would be quite the thrill."
The greatest thrill for Olsen, however, remains striking Olympic gold in Whistler.
"The most memorable moment for me was winning the gold medal at the last Olympics," he said. "That feat hadn't been accomplished since the 1948 Winter Olympics here in St. Moritz, Switzerland. I think it is very rare that a team has as much success as we have had over the past five seasons. I look back at my journey to the top of the sport and it wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for my family and teammates. They've been there for me when times were tough and have pushed me to be the best.
"I remember being at the top of the track in Whistler for the fourth heat of the Olympic Games and looking around and only seeing my three teammates," he recalled. "We knew that if we put in another good run, the gold was ours. There wasn't any doubt in their eyes or mine. Coming across the finish line and seeing that we were in first place still, and our friends and families were going absolutely crazy, was amazing. I will never forget getting out of the sled and putting my arms around my three teammates and saying: 'We did it, boys! We won it all!'"
Olsen wants U.S. service members around the world to know "Team Night Train," driven by former Soldier Steven Holcomb, also did it for them.
"I just hope that they look at what we do, and feel a sense of pride," Olsen said. "Competing against another nation's top athletes and being victorious is an amazing thing. I gain inspiration from our troops every day. What [Soldiers] do for the United States is above and beyond what the average person could ever think to achieve. You are a leader and an elite member of society. I am honored to wear the same uniform and to be called the same as you, an American Soldier."
Army WCAP bobsled driver Nick Cunningham teamed with WCAP member Capt. Chris Fogt, Andreas Drbal of Belmont, Calif., and Adam Clark of Owenton, Ky., to finish 19th aboard USA-2.
"I am extremely proud to be a Soldier-athlete," said Cunningham, 27, of Monterey, Calif. "The Army World Class Athlete Program has enabled me to continue my Olympic pursuits and I'm proud to be a part of the program. It's not just me I'm representing when I'm in the sled. I have all U.S. Soldiers behind me as I slide down every track worldwide."
"It is a great honor to represent the USA in world competitions," added Fogt, 29, of Alpine, Utah. "I take extra pride in the fact that I get to represent the Army at the same time. Being a Soldier-athlete helps keep me focused and working hard because I am representing more than just my team and myself. I'm representing the most powerful and respected organization in the world. I need to reflect that in the way I present myself, train and perform."
Cunningham and Fogt also competed in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Whistler. Like Olsen, they have fond memories of that experience.
"Opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Games will always be a highlight," Fogt said. "Walking out of the tunnel with my teammates, following the American flag to 55,000 people cheering and chanting 'USA' is something I will never forget. Five months after that experience, I had the opportunity to deploy to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. The contrast of walking off a C-130 at Baghdad International Airport with my fellow Soldiers obviously had none of the same fanfare -- not to mention the difference in climate from a winter sport to Baghdad's heat in July -- but I felt a rush and sense of pride that was similar to what I felt at opening ceremonies. Being able to represent our country, with the best men and women our country has to offer, is something I will never forget."
Cunningham can't get over how he found his way into a bobsled, much less representing the U.S. Army in Canada.
"Since I was five years old, I had dreamed of being an Olympian in track and field," he recalled. "My dedication in athletics presented the opportunity to compete at the NCAA Division I level at Boise State University. When I graduated college, I wasn't done being an athlete. My parents joked about turning my upbringing of surfing in California into bobsledding down a sheet of ice. That joke turned into a reality in the fall of 2008. Eighteen months later, I was walking into the Opening Ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I finally realized my life-long dream of being an Olympian."
One year from now, these Soldiers intend to be members of Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, scheduled for Feb. 6-23.