LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Track manager Tony Carlino is set to turn off the refrigeration system at Mount Van Hoevenberg. When he flips the switch on Sunday, another bobsled season — and a good one for the United States — will officially be in the books halfway to the Sochi Winter Olympics.
"Going into the third year of a quad is very important," said Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF). "That third year is crucial because that leads into the confidence of the Olympic year. We've always focused on that third year as being really important, and this really sets us up nicely."
The "this" Steele was referring to would be the uplifting end of the season for American bobsled. With a fleet of 20 shiny new BMW SUVs and sedans at their disposal for the world championships here at their home track in late February, U.S. athletes were brimming with confidence. Steven Holcomb won the two-man and four-man races — a first for the United States at worlds — and teammate Elana Meyers captured bronze in the women's race.
Still, despite a core of top athletes, a solid coaching staff, and a nice array of sponsors that includes the National Guard, BMW, KOA, Alamo, Under Armour and several others, a key cog in the success of the team going forward is missing. Now that the favorite venture of former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine, the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, Inc., has been shuffled to the side, there's nobody to maintain the equipment.
"After the world championships last year (in Germany), the sleds were shipped back to the United States and just sat around. Nobody touched them," said Holcomb, who was recognized Wednesday at a Lake Placid ceremony with a "Legends of Mount Van Hoevenberg" poster. "They're still in pretty decent shape. I'd like to think I'm a good enough driver that I didn't beat it up too much, but after two years of not being maintained and not having the money to really get it back to its optimal state, it's going to start to wear on the sled and wear on our results.
"The athletes have been the unfortunate losers," Holcomb said. "USBSF has their plans, Bo-Dyn has their plans, and they can't get along."
At worlds, 67-year-old Frank Briglia, who's been associated with the team for nearly two decades, grudgingly came out of retirement to help out. He's not interested in an encore.
"Actually, I don't want to do it at all," said Briglia, who lives in Connecticut. "They don't have help, so I kind of volunteered some time. That's always an ongoing job. They have to have somebody just to take care of the sleds all the time. When I got here, it was a mess. They have to find somebody to do this, no doubt. There's just too much to do."
Steele is hopeful BMW provides that somebody.
"The BMW partnership has been fantastic," Steele said. "They're interested in how they can make things better for us as a team. They don't want to just be writing a check. They want to make sure that we're a better team as a result of their sponsorship."
That would help save money, which always is an issue. Holcomb was a bit disgruntled when he had to take a cut in his monthly stipend after winning the Olympic four-man race at Whistler two years ago, the first gold medal for the U.S. men since 1948.
Walk into the sled shed that Bodine and Whelen Engineering were instrumental in building at Mount Van Hoevenberg and the race car driver's name is everywhere. Much has transpired since Bodine was lured to the sport in 1992 at the Albertville Winter Games. Surprised that his country was struggling using foreign-made equipment, he created the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project and with ace designer Bob Cuneo began building American-made sleds using NASCAR technology.
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