Camp dis­cov­ers Olympic hopefuls

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - GOLF - Rox­anna Scott

Josh Wil­liamson first learned about the sport of bob­sled through fol­low­ing two-time Olympic medal­ist Steven Lang­ton on so­cial me­dia.

Wil­liamson saw how much weight Lang­ton could lift and how pow­er­ful he was when push­ing a bob­sled be­fore jump­ing into it and slid­ing down an icy track at 90 mph.

But when Wil­liamson, a for­mer lacrosse player from Lake Mary, Florida, ap­plied for a U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee pro­gram called Scout­ing Camp: The Next Olympic Hope­ful last year, he didn’t have high ex­pec­ta­tions.

“I knew I was a good ath­lete af­ter com­pet­ing in col­lege, but I re­ally didn’t know what I’d be good at,” said Wil­liamson, who went to a 24 Hour Fit­ness for a “com­bine” test and sub­mit­ted his NOH ap­pli­ca­tion. At scout­ing camp, “They kind of tell you what they think you have the build for, they tell you what ath­let­i­cally you might be suc­cess­ful in. Com­ing from Florida, I didn’t re­ally know bob­sled was an option.”

A year af­ter win­ning Sea­son 1, he is headed to Europe to com­pete as part of the USA Bob­sled team. He’s one of three ath­letes who were scouted through the NOH pro­gram in Colorado Springs, Coloardo, where the USOC is based, to land a spot on the bob­sled team.

Eight win­ners from Sea­son 2 were an­nounced last Sun­day on NBC’s fi­nale. They’ll re­ceive fi­nan­cial sup­port to train in eight Olympic sports, which range from boxing to row­ing. Nearly 3,500 ath­letes ap­plied on­line or at­tended try­outs at 24 Hour Fit­ness clubs for the chance to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram.

Since tak­ing his first trip in a bob­sled in Lake Placid, New York, in fall 2017, Wil­liamson has had a fairy-tale rise in the sport. Wil­liamson, 22, who played Divi­sion I lacrosse at Mercer in Ge­or­gia, won five medals com­pet­ing as a brake­man on the North Amer­i­can Cup cir­cuit and placed sixth with pi­lot Hunter Church at the ju­nior world cham­pi­onships in Switzer­land in Jan­uary.

“I’ve been in the sport for 29 years. I’ve never seen a guy push a sled this early in his ca­reer and look like he’s been do­ing it for 10 years the way Josh has,” says USA Bob­sled na­tional team head coach Mike Kohn. “In terms of ath­letic abil­ity, he’s 100 per­cent pure nat­u­ral tal­ent. He’s got the mind-set to go with it. We’re look­ing for­ward to him tak­ing a lead­er­ship role in the fu­ture. He’s got po­ten­tial to be the face of the pro­gram at some point.”

USA Bob­sled has had suc­cess re­cruit­ing ath­letes from other sports (Her­schel Walker, Lolo Jones and Lau­ryn Wil­liams) and de­vel­op­ing their tal­ent on the ice.

The year af­ter an Olympics pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for rook­ies to come in and learn, says Kohn, be­cause the pro­gram loses ath­letes through at­tri­tion.

One of those ath­letes tak­ing ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity is Sylvia Hoffman, who also made the na­tional team af­ter be­ing scouted in NOH. The for­mer LSU-Shreve­port bas­ket­ball player was work­ing in Colorado Springs and train­ing in weightlift­ing when she de­cided to ap­ply for NOH.

Af­ter im­press­ing coaches at the scout­ing camp, the 29-year-old who grew up in Ar­ling­ton, Texas, was in­vited to a rookie bob­sled camp. She won the na­tional push cham­pi­onships in Lake Placid on Sept. 28 be­fore tak­ing her first trip in a sled on ice a cou­ple of weeks later.

“It was a lit­tle bumpy, but I didn’t fear it,” Hoffman says of her first bob­sled run as a brake­woman. “I was like OK, this is just some­thing new to me. I think the sec­ond day I learned the track a lit­tle bit bet­ter and it re­ally helped as far as be­ing in the back of the sled. I was able to be pre­pared for cer­tain turns and re­ally try to stay fo­cused and be loose and fluid.”

“Op­por­tu­ni­ties are out there; ath­letes just don’t know much about them,” says Scott Riewald, USOC’s se­nior di­rec­tor of high per­for­mance. He uses the ex­am­ple of NCAA ath­letes who grad­u­ate and don’t want to give up sport but who don’t have an av­enue to con­tinue com­pet­ing.

NOAH ABRAMS/SPE­CIAL TO THE U.S. OLYMPIC COM­MIT­TEE

Josh Wil­liamson, a for­mer lacrosse player from Florida, won Sea­son 1 of Scout­ing Camp: The Next Olympic Hope­ful.

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