USA Bobsled and Skeleton typically has staff spending part of the spring and summer months on the road recruiting, looking for new talent and luring them with the potential of representing their country in the Olympics.
This year, amid a pandemic, none of that could take place.
So USABS made the entire process digital — and so far, it’s working.
Following the same sort of thinking that works for high school athletes trying to get noticed by colleges, USABS has invited potential sliders to upload resumes and videos that show what they can do and who they are. The results have been overwhelming, both in terms of the numbers and the quality of athleticism from many who are interested.
“I would say in this short amount of time — and we’re just talking really like from May to now — I think this has been the greatest response rate of any recruiting thing that we’ve ever done,” said USABS assistant coach Mike Dionne, who handles much of the federation’s recruiting efforts. “I was shocked at the amount of responses that we were getting.”
Someone submitted video of herself pushing a car for 30 yards in a parking lot. Another sent his rugby highlights. One woman inserted a clip of her missing what would have been a game-winning goal in a state high school soccer championship game and how she grew from that experience.
USABS already has gotten dozens of serious candidates involved, through Zoom video conferences with coaches and established athletes and past bobsled and skeleton Olympians. Team officials expect many more names to get into the mix before the Sept. 30 submission deadline for consideration this season.
The idea of taking the process online, USABS CEO Aron McGuire said, was probably overdue and is likely here to stay. Athletes submit themselves running a 40-yard dash, completing a broad jump, plus fill out a questionnaire. Just like that, they officially become Olympic hopefuls.
“COVID or no COVID, we’ve got to be thinking about ways that we can be more efficient and really get a greater reach,” McGuire said. “We can get more athletes excited about the sports and get them involved. So, this is kind of a great way to kind of reach that next generation of athletes.”
Another plus for USABS: It saves a ton of money. Budget constraints would typically limit the team to recruiting stops in 8-10 cities, McGuire said. This reach, being online, is unlimited.
“Now, we can have the entire reach of literally anyone in the world, any US citizen in the world that wants to try out,” McGuire said. “It’s much more effective in terms of that outreach.”
What happens in the coming weeks, if all goes to plan, would see many of the Olympic hopefuls travel to Lake Placid, New York, — the team’s home base — or possibly Park City, Utah, for rookie camps. Lake Placid would be where many of the incoming athletes who are seeking to be part of the bobsled program would see a push track for the first time, and coaches could start getting more information on who has the type of strength, speed and explosiveness that is needed to help get a sled down a mountain as fast as possible.
Dionne said it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone who comes into the program this fall could still find themselves on the 2022 U.S. Olympic bobsled team. There are precedents for things happening that quickly.
And this season, it's unclear how much U.S. national team athletes will be overseas because of the pandemic. If some top athletes are able to train in Lake Placid or Park City more for even some of the sliding season, that could accelerate the development of this year's rookie class.
“For a bobsled push athlete, 2022 is definitely not out of the question,” Dionne said. “And we’re also trying to fill the pipeline for bobsled and skeleton drivers more than anything. On average, that can be an eight-year process before they’re ready to be in medal contention at the Olympics. So, we have to get those athletes in the pipeline.”