Josh Williamson’s unique journey has bobsleigh brakeman on the eve of the Olympics


Josh Williamson poses for a photo at the Next Olympic Hopeful in July 2019 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Growing up in central Florida, Josh Williamson never dreamed of playing college lacrosse, let alone pushing a bobsled at the Winter Olympics.

Yet he was there a few years later playing Division I lacrosse at Mercer University in Georgia, and now within 50 days of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics he is able to make his debut. Olympic as a bobsledder.

“The number one goal of our organization is competitive excellence at the Olympics,” he said, “and that’s a motto that I love to live by because I don’t know how you could best sum it up. . “

It’s been a unique trip for Williamson, 25, but in a way it’s a trip he’s been preparing for since growing up in the Orlando suburb of Lake Mary.

Like many local children, Williamson’s first love was playing football, and lacrosse only appeared in sixth grade to keep him busy during the offseason.

Lacrosse was not very popular in the South when Williamson first started playing, but he enjoyed it enough to really go for it. With only one team in the area, he didn’t know any of the other players and was constantly in the car to get to games and practice. He wasn’t very good either, at least right away.

“Like everything, when you start out you are not very confident,” he said. “When you have people around you who are very good, it’s difficult. The more you improve, the more fun it becomes.

Williamson ended up being very good – so good that he got a scholarship offer from Mercer. But after sustaining a few injuries in his first year, his story changed again.

“One of my goals I set for myself in high school was that I wanted to play Division I lacrosse, it was an obsession for me,” he said. “Unfortunately after a year I did this and I wasn’t sure what to do next.”

He was transferred to the state of Florida to be “just a student” for the first time in his life. After a semester he knew he needed something else to compete. He had continued to train the entire time and loved everything about it – lifting weights, jumping, sprinting in the wind. But what was a sport that allowed him to do these things that didn’t require a bunch of new skills to learn?

“If I’m shopping for a sport here let me find something that I don’t hate,” he said. “I knew there would be things I wouldn’t like to do in any sport I chose, but if I could help it, let me find something where I can enjoy almost everything. what we do.”

He followed a few bobsledders on Instagram because he liked the workout videos they posted. He noticed that a lot of the workouts were the ones he was already good at.

“It’s like I’ve been training bobsled all my life, but playing lacrosse,” he said.

He signed up for a combine in Park City, Utah, and stood out enough to earn a spot on “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful,” a 2017 show designed to identify talented athletes. from across the country for an opportunity to train with a United States National Team. One of the talent-seeking sports that year was bobsleigh.

To be a brakeman in bobsleigh is to combine size, strength and speed. Williamson’s speed combination in a 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame caught the coach’s attention.

“Most people who come in can do either, and it’s about getting better at what you love,” he said. “I worked on my sprint a bit and I was pretty good when I got there, so I was more of a full package to start with.”

He ended up being one of eight winners of the first season of the Next Olympic Hopeful and started competing with the national team the following summer.

Of course, there were nuances in learning a new sport, but it wasn’t a technical skill or the habit of going down a track above 80 mph that was the biggest obstacle for Williamson. He was traveling abroad for the first time.

“I didn’t even have a passport,” he said. “Where do you want me to go?” And how long does this flight last? I had never taken a plane for more than a few hours, then I took a flight to Japan.

Williamson understood the passport situation and then began to move up the ranks in the new sport. He competed at the World Junior Championships the following winter and the Senior World Championships in 2019. In the 2019-2020 season, Williamson was a regular at the World Cup, competing 11 times on the best circuit in sport.

After the interrupted 2020-21 pandemic season, he’s back in the World Cup this season, mostly pushing a four-man sled for Hunter Church.

After opening the season with back-to-back top 10s in Innsbruck, Austria, Team Church bounced around the teens and 20s in subsequent races. Everything they do, Williamson said, is aimed at this goal of being their best in Beijing.

It’s a tough task, but one that motivates Williamson. It boiled down to four full years training for four minutes of racing, describing the four races each team gets at the Olympics. This means that no matter how well or poorly a team has competed over the season, the only thing that matters are the two days of competition in February in Beijing.

A good example of the unpredictability of boardsports at the Winter Olympics is Austria’s David Gleirscher. He won gold in men’s luge at PyeongChang 2018 after never having been on a single podium in his World Cup career.

All Williamson and his teammates can ask for is a place in the competition. If they qualify, they know they will have a chance to be the best on those two days in February.

“This is our goal,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how this season goes, [our goal] is to put together our best team, to go to the Olympics and to jump in and try to represent this nation the best that we can. “

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