We knew after the first head that we were out of medal contention right away, obviously. But you still want to come out and keep trying your best. We don’t quit. —Chris Fogt
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Sitting in 21st place after two runs is not the tribute bobsled brakeman Chris Fogt wanted to offer in memory of the man who helped him win his first Olympic and World Cup medals.
It’s not the moment the Army Captain wanted to give the men and women he serves alongside in the U.S. military.
It’s not the thrilling distraction he hoped to offer soldiers deployed around the world, who see themselves in Team USA’s Olympic bobsled efforts.
It isn’t even the race he hoped his wife and children at home in Utah could celebrate at their massive Friday night watch party.
It is, however, the reality of life after losing the best bobsled pilot in U.S. history, and, while the world may no longer care, there are still reasons to fight and victories to be had.
“It is (different),” Fogt said with a deep sigh of the contrast between chasing a medal in 2014 and hoping to be good enough for a fourth run in 2018. “Coming down day one in fourth place (in Sochi), and being with one of the best pilots in the world in Steve Holcomb is a different feeling. But we knew with (Pilot) Justin (Olsen), as this is the only year two for him driving in four-man, we would have to have some perfect runs. I’ve had some pretty perfect urns before, but we did not have those today. But he’s learning, and he’s trying is best out there.”
Fogt said their pushes were slower and their position in the start house added to the difficult task they had as medal longshots.
“We knew after the first head that we were out of medal contention right away, obviously,” Fogt said. “But you still want to come out and keep trying your best. We don’t quit. We’re not going to quit. We’re .23 out of 20th place (which would allow them to make the cut for the fourth and final run), so that’s a pretty big mountain to climb.” If there is one thing USA bobsled has proved in the last year, it’s that they can climb mountains, they can endure adversity and the can rise to challenges. In addition to losing three-time Olympic medalist Steve Holcomb in May, Olsen still wears the hospital ID band he received while undergoing an emergency appendectomy two weeks ago.
“We’re going to try to come out tomorrow, try to make that up, get into the top 20, catch a few more people and try to finish as high as we possibly can,” Fogt said. “We still need to push better. I think we were 7th or 8th, and we’ve been top three all year.”
While he acknowledged Olsen may still be sore from surgery, he knows the pilot is giving the competition everything he has.
“Justin is a very tough kid,” he said. “He’s a little bit slow, moves a little bit more gingerly, but when it comes to racing, he’s fired up, he’s ready to go, and he’s not holding anything back,” Fogt said the team was buoyed by the appearance of Holcomb’s mother, Jean Schaefer, at the track Saturday morning. She cheered on every USA sled – both runs. “That was huge,” said Fogt of the Park City native. “I saw her for (skeleton athlete Katie) Uhlaender’s race, and then she was out here at the line for us. It’s great to have her here, have her support, having Steve still with us.” He stops to choke back tears, as fellow push athlete Carlo Valdes puts a hand on Fogt’s shoulder, “The feeling of losing him It’s a little bit disappointing. Between that and the run, it’s a lot of mixed emotions.”
After two runs, Germany’s Francesco Friedrich’s sled is in first place, .29 of a second ahead of the Korean sled driven by Yunjong Won. The top American sled is driven by Codie Bascue, who improved on his first run significantly and now sits in 8th place — .88 behind the top team.
U.S. pilot Nick Cunningham is in 20th place, just .06 behind the 19th place sled.
“We’re happy with that,” said Bascue. “We’re in a good place to move up tomorrow. We’re happy with how we pushed, confident with how the runs went, but there’s room to improve. So that’s a good sign for tomorrow.”
Fogt said the men in his sled will also find plenty of reasons to keep fighting for every fraction of a second. For him, it will include setting an example for his son, who at 3 years old, is too young to realize the disappointing situation his father faces.
“I got a picture in between heat one and two, and (the kids) were happy and smiling,” he said, a grin on his own face. “My wife sent me some videos and they were all wearing Team USA shirts, a bunch of cousins with them at a huge watch party. They were all cheering and smiling. He’s too young to realize we’re in 21st place, which is probably a good thing.
“It’s great to have their support, to have him be able to watch me keep trying and not quit even though we’re not where we want to be.”