In 1994, the chance that Bob Olesen would become a bobsledder seemed as remote as the slopes of Nagano, Japan.
A college track-and-field coach and aspiring decathlete in Texas at the time, Olesen seemed an unlikely candidate to make the U.S. bobsled team.
But as a former collegiate All-American triple jumper, he had the skill set coaches were looking for. After four years of training, he was an Olympian and headed to Nagano, Japan.
Now a 43-year-old Harrisburg resident and head coach of UNCCharlotte track and field for the past 11 years, Olesen reflects on his days on the world's stage and gets excited about the chances of this year's U.S. bobsled team at the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
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Olesen and his teammate on the two-man team, driver Jim Herberich, got close to winning a medal in 1998, placing seventh. This year's team will try to earn the United States' first gold medal in men's bobsled since 1948.
A University of Illinois graduate, Olesen was an assistant coach at Southwest Texas State University in summer 1994. He had all but given up his Olympic dreams in the jump events, but had found new hope in the decathlon.
A fellow Southwest Texas coach heard the U.S. bobsled team would have tryouts in nearby San Antonio, and recommended it to Olesen. He had ice-skated a little growing up in Illinois, but Olesen had never even skied before, let alone set foot in a bobsled.
He knew trying out would mean calling off his work moonlighting as a weekend taxi driver. But he decided to go through with it.
His only preparation for the tryout was renting "Cool Runnings," the 1993 feature comedy about the first Jamaican Olympic bobsled team, starring John Candy.
At the two-day tryout in Texas, Olesen qualified for the national tryouts at Lake Placid, N.Y., a month later. He made the team, and his days as a track and field athlete were over.
Over the next four years, Olesen trained and competed with the team for about six months a year. The team competed in World Cup races, winning several, but a highlight came at the end of the 1997 season.
At the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Olesen and his teammates won bronze medals in the two-man and four-man events. The driver in both sleds was Brian Shimer, now the U.S. bobsled team's coach.
Bob and Cindy Olesen were the team's only married couple. Their daughter, Elizabeth was nine months old during the Nagano Winter Olympic Games in 1998. Their son, Thomas, was born several years later.
What Olesen remembers most about the Olympics were the spectacular opening ceremonies and the rush of being at the top of the track during competition.
"It doesn't get old when you're pushing a bobsled," he said, "because you're about to hurdle yourself downhill at about 80 miles per hour or more. It doesn't matter how little the race is or how big the race is or how many years you've been doing it: Your heart is going when you're standing there."
Olesen and Herberich's two-man sled was less than one second from third place and a bronze medal. Olesen's four-man team, on which he was the brakeman, finished 12th, but the other U.S. entry placed fifth.
Olesen still has plenty of collectibles from the games, including his bobsledding gear, a photograph of himself with President Bill Clinton in the White House, a participation ring decorated with diamonds inside the Olympics' five-ring symbol, several jackets and a pair of gloves he still wears during cold weather.
Coaches were recruiting him to stay with the team after the 1998 games, he said, but he was realistic. Another four years away from track and field might have damaged his chances to return as a coach in that sport.
Though he said he has lost touch with his former Olympic teammates, Olesen will follow this year's team with anticipation.
"It looks like they are standing extremely well right now, probably better than ever," he said. "If I'm not watching it, I'll be DVR-ing it."