Not-So-Cool Runnings: Bobsledder Remembers Low Olympics Moment
Randy Will still winces when he thinks about the biggest moment of his Olympic life, and the fiasco it turned out to be.
It happened one year ago Sunday, at a frigid place near the Arctic Circle called Hunderfossen, a place that became synonymous with failure for Will and the U.S. bobsled team.
Will stood in the frosty Norwegian air and said good-bye to his Olympic hopes with this nightmarish notion: After 10 years of trying through three Winter Games, he finished 15th in the four-man, behind even Jamaica, because he didn’t bring the right equipment for the biggest race of his life.
Will kept a stiff upper lip after his final run at Lillehammer, repeatedly asking that fateful question: With Scandinavia in the midst of one of its coldest winters on record, how could I have brought runners that function best at much warmer temperatures?
Inside, his emotions were wrought with frustration.
“I wanted to crawl up and die. I put my head down. I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” Will said. “You don’t want to explain it over and over and over again. I couldn’t believe what happened.
“You go from a point where we were in October, when we won the first race at Lillehammer by eight-tenths of a second--an unbelievable margin. And as the year went on, we were decent, always in the top five in the World Cup, right there, doing well. I was pretty psyched. Then we got blown out in the Olympic race.
“I wanted to come up with an answer right away and explain to people what happened,” Will said. “And yet I knew, technical-wise, I couldn’t. I had to go home, talk to my people, and say, ‘Why? How did this happen?’ That’s what we’re in the midst of now. It takes a long period of time to do that.”
There was more to the story than met the eye. In one of those cruel twists of fate, two days before the first heat Will tried to get a set of German runners more suited to the frigid conditions.
“I tried to get a set of DDG’s from Dresden,” he said. “But they rented their last set out to the Jamaicans.”
So he went back, looked at the forecast, and figured he could live with it.
He was wrong.
“When I woke up in the morning and it was 22 below zero Celsius, I felt kind of sick,” he said. “But I was still pumped and ready.
“We had an awesome start, an awesome trip, didn’t touch a wall. But I remember coming out of Turn 13 down the long straightaway and all of a sudden it felt like someone put on the brakes. It felt like there was a parachute behind us. I thought, ‘Oh my God! What happened?’
“We came through the finish and I saw the time. I had run faster in training. Everyone was patting me on the back, saying, ‘Awesome run, awesome run.’ I said, ‘We just got our butts kicked.’ It humbled me, believe me.”
Despair reached new heights when teammate Brian Shimer was disqualified the next morning because his runners were too warm. That had never happened before at the Winter Olympics.
“It just shocked us,” Will said. “It took the whole team and just dropped the morale beyond what you can imagine. We didn’t know what could happen next. We could only imagine.”
The worst happened--Jamaica finished 14th, one-hundredth of a second ahead of Will.
“I went home (to Binghamton, N.Y.) and didn’t see anyone,” said Will. “I was withdrawn, just to myself. I began coaching a (high school) track team and they really didn’t understand what I was going through because to be ranked in the top five in the World Cup and come out and get just totally blistered, it doesn’t make any sense. These kids really looked up to me because I’m a hometown boy.
“But they looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you got beat by the Jamaicans.’ These were young kids telling me this. It hurt a lot. I don’t think people understand how much.”
The hurt is haunting, still.
“I still hide a lot. I went into a pizza shop in Binghamton back in the fall and one of the pizza makers goes, ‘Hey, you get beat by Jamaica lately?’
“I paid for my pizza, walked out and held my head high and thought, ‘You know, I did the best I could. My guys did the best they could. What can we do?’
“There were a lot of people, though, that were very supportive,” he said. “Hey, you guys did a great job.”
Matt Roy, executive director of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, was one. Will, who retired after Lillehammer, was hired as a team coach in the fall and, with his Mormon background, appears to be the man that will help lead the U.S. team’s efforts in Salt Lake City when the country’s second refrigerated bobrun opens there later this year.
“My job now is to work with the athletes as much as I can, take everything that I’ve learned and try to steer them away from the problems I’ve had,” Will said. “I’ve had my political problems, technical problems, physical problems. I believe I’ve seen it all.”