Bobsledder Mike Kohn was pondering retirement before receiving the most bittersweet phone call of his life late last year.
Close friend and rival Todd Hays, who had all but locked up a spot in the 2010 Olympics, had suffered a career-ending head injury on Dec. 9. He left the doctor's office and immediately called Kohn, a part-time Myrtle Beach resident, to tell him of the news and offer his help.
If Hays couldn't compete at the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, he wanted to make sure that Kohn did.
"I struggled with it in the beginning, because Todd was such a good friend of mine," Kohn said. "As a competitor that's not really how I wanted to move up, but I did some soul searching on the issue and kind of determined that it was an unfortunate accident and I also had a responsibility to help out the country."
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Kohn's two- and four-man bobsled teams were longshots to earn a spot in the Olympics before Hays' crash, but the accident gave him an opening if his teams could earn enough International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation points by competing in pre-Olympic events around the world. He earned the necessary two-man points in a Swiss World Cup event on Jan. 16 and then qualified in the four-man a day later.
Kohn, a 37-year-old Columbia native, will be participating in the Olympics for the second time. He was a brakeman in 2002 and an alternate four years ago.
Hays and Kohn played an integral part in helping American bobsledding regain respect around the world eight years ago at the Salt Lake City games. Hays' four-man team won a silver medal and Kohn's team won the bronze, the United States' first medals in the bobsled since 1956.
It was memories like that one that made it so tough for Kohn to see Hays' career end.
"I really hope he doesn't feel bad, because that's just part of competition," Hays said. "It wasn't going to do me any good to sit around and cry about it, and I just wanted to give him a heads up that he needed to prepare, because time was limited. I wanted to give him every opportunity he could to get ready.
"He's taken his opportunity, and now he gets a chance at the big show."
This will be Kohn's first Olympic berth as a driver - the central figure on a bobsled team. It has taken him two decades to reach the sport's ultimate destination in the lead role.
He was running track at George Mason University when he was approached about bobsledding in 1990. After competing as the youngest Olympic hopeful at the 1991 U.S. trials, Kohn spent more than a decade traveling around the globe for World Cup events before his Olympic dreams finally came true with a medal in 2002.
Yet, in many ways, this experience will be even more meaningful.
"Most of it is in my hands as a driver, so it's probably more rewarding," Kohn said. "I was happy to go as a brakeman, but I always wanted to go as a driver. Ever since I got started that was my ultimate goal."
It almost never happened, because Kohn was ready to give up the sport last year. An Army National Guardsman in northern Virginia, he had been putting off long-term goals in the military. He plans to attend Army Officer Candidate School and wants to eventually deploy overseas.
But those goals will have to wait until after the Vancouver games. Kohn and Co. will compete in two-man heats starting Feb. 20 and will compete in the four-man six days later. Kohn isn't expected to medal, but that doesn't matter.
"This is definitely it," Kohn said of his career. "Twenty years is more than enough. I've been fortunate enough to go to one Olympics already. We'd like to repeat that [medal], but regardless of whether I win a gold or we finish dead last, I think we've already accomplished a lot just to be able to represent the United States in the Olympic games.
"It's going to be rewarding for me. ... I love the sport, and I've been fortunate in life I've found something I love to do. It will be a swan song moment for me. It'll be my last run at it. I'll have a smile on my face, no question."
To view Hoke's CCU sports blog, "The Roost," go to TheSunNews.com.