US push athletes seeking medals, not glory

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 28, 2014 at 11:43 am •  Published: January 28, 2014

The pay is awful, the workplace is freezing, making a mistake is about the only way to get noticed and trips down the mountain are always accompanied by some big-time turbulence.

Such is life as a bobsled push athlete.

Glamour-seekers need not apply. They are the offensive linemen of bobsledding, anonymous yet essential. Drivers get all the credit, but on race day it's often the push athletes who make all the difference — and the corps of pushers who'll cram into the sleds that the U.S. has taken to the Sochi Olympics may be the world's best.

"I think it's the deepest group we've ever had," U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele said.

Hoping to win medals in two-man, four-man and women's bobsledding in Sochi, the U.S. has spent tons of time and money on making their sleds as fast as possible for sliding's biggest races. But ultimately, winning and losing on the Olympic stage will largely hinge upon how effective the people who will be pushing those sleds are in their five-second explosive stints of work when the light turns green.

While keeping perfect time with the driver, the push athlete has to run at the same pace down an icy slope, find a way to get that sled going as fast as humanly possible before jumping inside, then remain low in an aerodynamic position for the rest of a trip that looks smooth on television but is actually quite bumpy.

"I love that extra emphasis of the Olympics because that's our biggest race," said U.S. veteran pusher Curt Tomasevicz, who was part of the team that won a four-man gold at Vancouver in 2010 and is making Sochi his final Olympics. "That's what keeps you going. When it's every four years it's four times the commitment, and it means even more to an athlete when they get there."

It looks easy. Looks are deceiving.

In addition to the sessions they all spend in a gym in a constant quest to get stronger and faster, the push athletes typically also serve as sled crews. They help pack the crates to ship the sleds around the world. They spend hours several days a week sanding down the steel runners, by hand, buffing away even the tiniest imperfections. And they don't really get much of a say in anything; the driver, pretty much, is the boss.

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