Torino or bust – NU grad hopes to make final Olympic bobsledding team
Mary Zezulak remembers the time she and her family spent a day at Knotts Berry Farm like it was only weeks ago – an experience that actually happened nearly a decade and a half ago now. Her youngest son Matt was 7, Ben was 9 and the oldest, Sarah, was 11.
Ben and Sarah waited in line to feel the thrill of the rollercoaster with their dad, Jerry Fogel, as Mary stood alongside the line with Matt. The first time the speed of the roller coaster rattled by Ben’s ears, his eyes widened as he turned to his dad to ask if that was the ride they were waiting to try.
Jerry laughed at his son’s question and told him not to worry, that the noise he had heard came from the ride next to the roller coaster.
The funny part is that 14 years later, whatever hesitance Ben Fogel had of roller coasters at the tender age of nine, has completely disappeared. Now, he doesn’t bat an eye at hopping into a bobsled and barreling down an icy course at speeds of eclipsing 85 miles per hour with four G’s of force pulling his sled around curves.
In fact, Fogel’s fearlessness in bobsledding may take him to where most athletes can only dream: The Olympics.
The United States will send two four-man bobsled teams to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. If the teams selected then are the same as how this past season of World Cup Bobsled Tour ended, Fogel, a Nevada Union High School graduate, will be one of the eight bobsledders making that prestigious trip.
The World Cup Bobsled Tour runs from the beginning of October to the end of February, with the season ending at the World Championships in late February. This past season was the second full season Fogel participated in the tour as a part of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
Recruited during the summer of 2003 on the Verizon Summer Recruitment Tour, Fogel made the cut as a push athlete – the bobsledder who drives the sled down the shoot – after spending his previous five years participating in collegiate track and field at San Mateo junior college and then on scholarship at California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. After throwing out his arm in the javelin, Fogel stumbled upon the recruitment tour at the advice of a former coach and tried out without knowing much about the sport.
Two years later, he is within an arm’s throw of the U.S. Olympic team.
To begin this past season, Fogel earned a place in one of the top three USA bobsleds that competed in the tour. As the season went on, the teams changed each week and Fogel found himself left behind. He took that time to get his body healthy, find a job, make some money and wait for his next shot at getting back on one of the top three sleds.
His chance came sooner than later as before the last tour race of the season at Lake Placid, Fogel was able to win a race-off among teammates to get himself back on the USA2 bobsled. His team then went on to place eighth at the World Championships, just three places behind USA1, the Federation’s top team.
“I feel like right now I am in the right spot with the right driver as long as I keep improving,” Fogel said when assessing his chances at making the Olympic team. “I just have to stay healthy and avoid making any mistakes.”
The national team trials begin in October and the final roster for the Olympics will be announced some time around Christmas.
While Fogel’s fate is still months away, Zezulak is having a difficult time containing her own excitement about the possibility of having a son compete in the Olympics.
“I can’t even tell you how proud I am of my children,” Zezulak said. “It’s just so exiting. My son Matt was the daredevil son snowboarding, skateboarding and always finding a way to be upside down. Now all of the sudden the other one (Ben) who I thought was in such a safe sport (track and field) is bobsledding.
“Now, if he stays healthy anything could happen. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed.”
To help Fogel in his quest to make the Olympics, tax deductible donations can be addressed to:
U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation
Attn.: Athlete Training Fund for Ben Fogel
P.O. Box 828
Lake Placid, N.Y. 12946
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