The Olympic spirit is once again in the air. Many track athletes often forget that the Olympics also take place when it is cold outside, but on Friday the 2014 Winter Olympics will officially kick off. Not all track athletes forget though, since some will actually be there compete.
John Candy’s character in the movie Cool Runnings was correct in his assessment that sprinters have natural talent for the bobsled. While the Jamacian team is ironically one of the few sleds qualified for the Olympics without a track and field athlete on board, nearly every other country features a sprinter, thrower, or decathlete. And with sixty sleds from 22 countries competing in two events, that means a lot of track and field athletes are in Sochi.
Below are the those with the most success and international experience in the sport. This includes former World Championships medalist, Olympians, and age-group standouts. But many more athletes have backgrounds in the sport that did not make my list. For example, Beat Hefti, the Swiss pilot currently ranked second in the world, was never a track and field specialist but dabbled in athletics as a secondary sport and has dropped a 6.70 seconds over 60 meters. The time becomes even more impressive once you learn that his name is no misnomer: he weighs nearly 250 pounds. And many others have produced good times in the sprints or field events. Here are the best of the men, with statistics provided by the indispensible Tilatopaja Oy. Read the profiles of the the top female track stars competing in the bobsled here.
Joel Fearon (GBR 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 12th
Sprinters are represented more than any other event group and the fastest man in the field is Joel Fearon. You may not recognize Fearon’s name since he had his big breakthrough only last season when he posted a 10.10 second time over 100 meters. But after false starting in the semifinals at the UK Championships he was not able to secure a spot at the World Championships. He has made the national team in the past and competed over 60 meters at the 2011 European Indoor Championships. He will be teamed with John James Jackson, a veteran driver. Together they just placed fourth at the last World Cup event, but many of the top sleds were absent. But he has a good shot at a top 10 finish in Sochi.
Craig Pickering (GBR 1, 2-Man; GBR 2, 4-Man), World Rank: 20th 4-Man and 29th 2-Man
Another Brit is the most successful track athlete in the field. With a personal best of 10.14 seconds in the 100 meters, Beijing Olympian Craig Pickering switched to the bobsled a little more than a year ago. He left behind a great record, including World Championship bronze in the 4×100 meter relay at the 2007 World Championships, silver at the 2007 European Indoor Championships over 60 meters. He was the 100 meter World Youth bronze medalist back in 2003 and
won European U23 gold with the UK relay team in 2007.
Update: Pickering was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Bryan Barnett (CAN 2, 2-Man; CAN 3, 4-Man), World Rank: 10th in both 4-Man and 2-Man
Barnett is one of a few sprinters in the Canadian sleds. With personal bests of 10.22 seconds in the 100 meters and 20.31 seconds in the 200 meters his best individual result was making the World Championships semifinals in 2007. He had even more success in the 4×100 meter relay, where he competed at three World Championships and won silver at the Pan American Games.
Neville Wright (CAN 2, 4-Man), World Rank: 9th
On the track Wright had a personal best of 10.30 seconds. He competed at the 2007 World Championships on the Canadian 4x100m meter relay team. That same season he won bronze at the World University Games. Wright is teamed with driver Lyndon Rush, who won bronze in the 4-man event at the last Olympics. The team has been less consistent this season, but just placed third in the final World Cup last month.
Hisashi Miyazaki (JPN 1, 2-Man and 4-Man), World Rank: 25th 4-Man and 28th 2-Man
Miyazaki is one of the top Japanese sprinters. As a World Championship competitor in the 200 meters, he had a best of 20.53 seconds and also 10.28 seconds over the shorter distance. At 2009 Worlds he was also on the sixth place 4×100-meter relay squad.
Sebastien Gattuso (MON 1, 2-Man), World Rank: 24th
There are faster sprinters in the field that are not listed here, but veteran Gattuso was able to compete at the World Championships since he hails from Monaco. What is quite impressive is that his best of 10.53 seconds over 100 meters came at the age of 37.
Marko Hübenbecker (GER 1, 4-Man; GER 3, 2-Man), World Rank: 1st 4-Man and 11th 2-Man
The start is as much about power and explosiveness as it is about speed since the long 4-man sled weighs nearly 600 pounds empty. Throwers, therefore, also have a strong presence in the sport and the Germans use a few of them. Hübenbecker has one of the best background and also is the best medal threat among former track and field athletes. He competed in the World Youth Championships in the shot put back in 2003. After throwing the light shot put 19.03 meters he eventually improved to over 18 meters with the senior shot put as a young thrower. His sled is also the top ranked in the world for the 4-man event. Together with pilot Maximilian Arndt Hübenbecker already won the World Championships last summer.
Alexander Rödiger (GER 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 1st
Another former thrower for Germany is Alexander Rödiger. He competed at the World Junior Championships in the shot put back in 2004 with a personal best of 18.92 meters with the 6-kilogram shot put. Like Hübenbecker, he is on the strong Germany 1 sled that is one of the favorites. Unlike Hübenbecker, Rödiger will only be competing in the 4-man event.
Janis Strenga (LAT 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 7th
Strenga will be pushing for the strong Latvian sled driven by Oskars Melbardis. The Latvians are known for strong starts and won the recent St. Mortiz World Cup event. Strenga is a former javelin thrower. He competed at the World Junior Championships and had an impressive best of 71.96 meters as a junior.
William Frullani (ITA 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 17th
Another popular background is in the decathlon. Frullani placed ninth at the European Championships in the event and had a best of 7984 points. Indoors he placed even higher with a sixth place at the 2009 European Indoor Championships. He also claimed bronze at the European Under-23 Championships in 2001.
Thorsten Margis (GER 3, 4-Man), World Rank: 8th
Margis placed fourth at the World Junior Champions in the decathlon with a best of 7555 points. He eventually hit 7707 points with the senior implements.
Edwin Van Calker (NED 1, 2-Man and 4-Man), World Rank: 14th 4-Man and 26th 2-Man
The crewman end to bring the better athletic backgrounds to the table than pilots, but one of the top pilots is Edwin Van Calker. Calker placed fifth at the World Junior Championships way back in 1998. As a junior he hit 7089 points back when they used senior implements at that age.