Before Grand Strand resident Mike Kohn was assigned a pusher and brakeman Thursday for his two-man U.S. Bobsled team, he took the opportunity to offer the position himself - to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"We met Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I've always wanted to meet him," Kohn said, "and I thought it would be cool to go down in history as the only person to recruit the Terminator to be his brakeman. Of course he declined."
Kohn will instead be competing today and Sunday on USA-3 with Nick Cunningham, who is also one of the pushers on his four-man sled, scheduled to race this upcoming Friday and Saturday. Today's two-man races begin at 8 p.m., and Kohn has two runs scheduled today and two runs Sunday. The aggregate time of all four runs will determine the medal winners.
Kohn could use a Herculean effort to battle the slick 16-turn Whistler Sliding Center track being called the most difficult and dangerous in the world. The start of the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver last Friday was marred by the death of young Georgian men's luger Nodar Kumarishtavili, who crashed and flew off the track into a concrete barrier during a training run.
"That's not the way you want to start off the opening ceremonies," Kohn said. "It was definitely a real depressing moment for us all. Unfortunately, the sports we do are pretty dangerous and we all know that and we try to take into consideration the dangers of the sport."
The track was altered and shortened for the luge competition following Kumarishtavili's death, but it's being run in its entirety in bobsled events.
"There's not really any other choice for us," Kohn said. "It's definitely a challenge. I have a lot of respect for it. It's nothing to shake your head at. But things are going well and I feel pretty good."
Swiss driver Daniel Schmid has withdrawn due to safety concerns after two practice crashes, and Swiss teammate Beat Hefti, a gold-medal favorite and World Cup champion, withdrew from two-man because of a concussion sustained in a crash on Wednesday. Hefti's crash was one of eight during the first training sessions, adding to concerns about safety at the track.
Yet Kohn is confident on it because he's studied it for two years, often paying his own way to visit Whistler and monitor sleds on it. This week the 37-year-old Columbia native walked the track, studied video and ran a few training runs Wednesday when U.S. team officials were trying to determine who would be his partner. Kohn figured it would either be Cunningham, Chuck Berkeley off the USA-2 four-man sled, or Bill Schuffenhauer off Kohn's USA-3 four-man sled.
"I've raced quite a bit with Nick and we've had some pretty good success together," said Kohn, a part-time resident of Virginia. "I've raced with him more recently than most of the others so I think we'll be OK. He'll be fired up and he always gives 100 percent on the hill so I think it's a good choice. Training's going well and I'm looking forward to racing [today]."
Kohn puts some of the blame for Kumarishtavili's death on Canada and the existing policy of Olympic host countries not opening tracks to bobsledders from other countries prior to the Games. He said the difficult U.S. training track in Lake Placid, N.Y., is open to world competitors, but that's rare.
"When you have a luge athlete who isn't very experienced and he's qualifying on the fastest track in the world, he probably needs some practice time," Kohn said. "For us it's a distinct advantage if you build one to your advantage in your own country and don't allow people on it. It's tough. I think it's going to change the way people qualify and the way people get experience on tracks, hopefully. It's sad."
Kohn's parents, Henry and Barbara, who live in Carolina Forest, were scheduled to fly into Vancouver on Friday night to watch him try to tame the treacherous track.
Extended family members from Conway and Columbia are also among about 20 people flying in to root for him.
As the driver of the U.S.'s third entries in both the two- and four-man races, Kohn isn't expected to repeat his medal performance in 2002, when he was a brakeman on a bronze medal-winning four-man team in Salt Lake City. But he's not ruling himself out, either.
"It's anybody's race [today]," Kohn said. "Germany, the Swiss, Canada, [USA-1 driver Steve] Holcomb is running well. I think we'll do OK, so we're looking forward to it."
It's all gravy for Kohn, anyway, who was only added to the U.S. team late last year after friend Todd Hays suffered a career-ending head injury, and qualified his two sleds for the Olympics in January.
"The atmosphere here seems really good, and we've got a good team. It just feels right," said Kohn, who intends to attend Army Officer Candidate School following the Olympics. "The other thing is I'm not even supposed to be here. When you get that opportunity it's like winning the lottery. It's like, 'Cool.'"
The other two U.S. two-man teams are Holcomb with Curt Tomasevicz, and driver John Napier with Steve Langton. Kohn also has Jamie Moriarty on his four-man sled. The other four-man U.S. sleds consist of Holcomb with Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Tomasevicz - the reigning world champions, and Napier with Berkeley, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt.