It was tough for Jeff Brown, a hurdler for the University of Utah track team, when he missed qualifying for the NCAA national championships this past spring . . . by 2/100ths of a second. His best time of 50.5 seconds was good enough for second place at the WAC finals, but not quite low enough for the 50.3 NCAA qualifying standard.
He has since had to content himself with dreams of going to the Olympics.Only not in the hurdles.
In the bobsled.
"Who'd have thought this?" says Brown.
He is living proof that good things happen to those who stay in shape.
No sooner did his college eligibility expire than his Olympic quest began.
This winter he will compete as a member of the U.S. National Bobsled team; and, if things keep progressing like they have been, by next spring he'll be a top prospect to be named to the U.S. bobsled team that will go to Albertville, France, and compete in the 1992 Winter Games.
All this, despite the fact Brown has yet to actually ride in a bobsled on an ice-covered bobsled run.
The whole improbable scheme began last summer when Brown's good friend, Eric Morgan, phoned and said he was going to East High in Salt Lake to try out for the U.S. Bobsled Team, and Jeff should try out too.
"I had no idea what he was talking about," says Brown.
Morgan explained that he'd seen an announcement that bobsled officials would be at the East High track to test interested athletes who thought they might have the right stuff to earn an invitation to the National Bobsled Team Trials at Lake Placid, N.Y., in September.
Brown's fast-twitch muscles came to attention.
He went, he was tested, and he got an invitation to Lake Placid.
"As it turned out, they measured a lot of the stuff I was good at," says Brown.
On a test that included sprints of 30-, 60- and 100-meters, leapfrog, the shot put, and vertical jump, he scored 720 points.
His 720 total was 120 higher than the qualifying-minimum of 600, and was 25th best in the entire nation.
At Lake Placid he joined 65 other qualifiers, including another hurdler, Olympic champion Edwin Moses, who was the primary reason Brown decided to go - he had to pay for his own air fare - to Lake Placid.
"I was sort of skeptical about the whole thing," he says, "but Edwin Moses is my idol. I just wanted to see him."
NFL football star Willie Gault (whose 820 score paced the regional qualifying) was also at Lake Placid, as were any number of world-class track performers Brown was familiar with.
"This was no slouch group," he says.
On the first day of competition, pushing from the brakeman position (behind the bobsled), Brown amazed the coaches - and himself - when he finished 22nd out of 65. On the second day, pushing from the side, he improved to 19th.
Along with Moses and Gault and 29 others, Coaches Rick Carlino and John Philbin welcomed Brown to the team.
"So far I haven't gone down on ice yet," Brown says. "They had us push a sled that was on rollers and went down a cement slab about 100 yards. I've watched films of it (the real thing). They say you go about 80 miles an hour and it can be pretty scary."
Only eight to 10 men will be named to the '92 Olympic team, so Brown, in competitions in both Europe and North America this winter, has his work cut out for him.
He did notice that he was, at 6-1 and 165 pounds, quite a bit smaller than the other pushers at Lake Placid, and weight work this winter should help him make up ground.
Mike Jones, Utah's track coach who turned Brown from a high school (Olympus High) sprinter to a collegiate hurdler, thinks the opportunity is tailor-made for Brown. "He's a quick learner, and he's coachable," says Jones. "A lot of guys are strong and quick and fast but they may not listen to what you say; they may not learn so fast."
As you might suspect, all of this has caught Brown like a whirlwind. A current employee of his father's landscaping business in Salt Lake, he's been mowing lawns at double-time and dreaming about . . . Albertville.
"It's strange," he says, "I always dreamed about the Olympics, but it was always on the track. Not the bobsled."
He still may line up alongside Edwin Moses. The only difference is, they'll be wearing parkas.