Olympic bobsledder Olsen joins National Guard

Posted Jan. 06, 2011, at 4:35 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 06, 2011, at 9:12 p.m.

Olympic gold medalist Justin Olsen thought about becoming a soldier before becoming a bobsledder. He’s now found a way to do both.

Olsen has enlisted in the New York Army National Guard as a human resource specialist, becoming the latest in a long line of American sliding athletes who also have military careers.

His National Guard commitment is not expected to disrupt his bobsled schedule, since he won’t start basic training until the current sliding season ends.

“I already represent my country,” Olsen told The Associated Press by phone from Latham, N.Y., the site of Thursday’s enlistment ceremony and about two hours south of the U.S. bobsled team’s Lake Placid headquarters. “Now it’s an opportunity to serve and represent my country at the same time.”

After Thursday’s enlistment ceremony, Olsen — wearing a shirt with the USA Olympic logo — posed for photos with his gold medal.

Olsen is a push athlete for USA-1, the sled piloted by Steven Holcomb that won a world championship in 2009 and ended a 62-year American drought by capturing Olympic gold at last year’s Vancouver Games. Olsen has also dabbled in driving his own sled, and envisions trying to be a full-time pilot after this World Cup season.

Several members of the bobsled program have military ties, including USA-2 driver John Napier, who served in Afghanistan for much of 2010 after competing in the Olympics. And Olsen’s first roommate after joining the bobsled team was now-retired Olympic pilot Mike Kohn, another member of the National Guard.

“He just sat me down and talked to me about it and said, ‘Think about what you want to do with the sport and what you want to do with your career,’” Olsen said. “And I’ve thought about it for a long time.”

Olsen studied at the United States Air Force Academy for a short time after graduating from high school, eyeing a career in engineering.

Then bobsledding became his primary focus. His rise there was quick.

The San Antonio native made the World Cup team as a rookie and has been considered one of the top American pushers ever since, with national, world and Olympic championships now on his resume. The military lure never went away, though, and it ramped up again when Olsen met with National Guard officials during a World Cup event in Lake Placid last month.

“I’ve been all-in,” Olsen said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. We talked during the World Cup week in Lake Placid, and they asked me when would be the best time to come down and take my physical and testing and all that stuff.

“And I said, ‘How about tomorrow?’ I’ve wanted this to happen for a while now.”

This doesn’t mean bobsled is becoming less of a priority for Olsen. Not even close.

He flies to Europe on Friday to join the rest of the team for the second half of the World Cup season, plus get ready for next month’s world championships in Konigssee, Germany — where the home nation will be expected to take the gold away from USA-1.

After that, he’ll return to Lake Placid to resume his driving career, then head off to basic and specialized training.

“It’s timing out very nicely around the season,” Olsen said. “I don’t know if that’s by chance or if I’m just lucky.”

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