Utah Guard's SGT Shauna Rohbock:

Sliding for Gold and Country

 

By SFC Scotten Whaley

 

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Published February 16, 2010

 

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Utah Guard SGT Shauna Rohbock pilots the USA 1 sled with brakeman Michelle Rzepka Feb. 4 in a training run at the Utah Olympic Park.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Utah Guard SGT Shauna Rohbock pilots the USA 1 sled with brakeman Michelle Rzepka Feb. 4 in a training run at the Utah Olympic Park .

PARK CITY, Utah – The Winter Olympics come along just once every four years. It is a chance for citizens the world over to come together and cheer on athletes regardless of creed, race or country. For athletes, it is a chance to represent their nation. And a select few have the honor to represent their country a little more frequently.

As a member of the Utah National Guard and National Guard’s Outstanding Athlete Program, Olympic bobsledder SGT Shauna Rohbock not only represents her country in this year’s Olympics, she also stands for flag and country every day. Rohbock has been in the National Guard since 2000 and calls the decision to enlist "the best decision of my life."

Training to be the best in the world requires "a lot of hard work and dedication," Rohbock said. "It takes a big support group like the National Guard. It’s very hard. People asked me if I could have a nine-to-five job. There’s no chance. We’re not professional athletes. We can’t just go to practice and come home and sit around and play video games all day."

The bobsled is not a year-round event so the pilot, or driver, and brakeman only get to train in season. Rohbock said the Outstanding Athlete Program has given her options that not all her teammates get to enjoy. During the off season she drills with her National Guard unit and tours the country speaking about her Olympic experiences and how the military has impacted her success. And Rohbock has definitely been successful.

Utah Olympic Park scoreboard indicates the run times and rankings of competitors on the track.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Utah Olympic Park scoreboard indicates the run

times and rankings of competitors on the track.

Rohbock won a silver medal in both the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and the 2009 World Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y. Rohbock is also a favorite to win gold at this year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

She currently holds the track record of 53.53 seconds at the Whistler Sliding Centre for the two-woman bobsled, which she set en route to a gold medal at last year’s World Cup event there. Whistler is also the site of the bobsled events at the Vancouver Olympics.

Even though she is a favorite and the track record holder, Rohbock does not feel any extra pressure.

"People ask if I feel a lot of pressure because you’re supposed to win a medal," she said. "Actually, I feel like I got that monkey off my back in 2006. I just want to have four great runs and be happy with my performance in the end. I want to look back and say, ‘You know what, those were four great runs and this is what I came out with.’ And if it’s a medal that’s great. But I don’t want to have the ‘coulda, woulda, shouldas.’ I just want to be happy with all four runs."

Just getting through the Whistler course is one thing that will definitely put a smile on her face when she makes those four runs on the 12th and 13th days of the Olympics. Whistler is one of the fastest tracks in the world with speeds reaching upwards of 95 m.p.h. The 16-turn course is 1,450 meters long and drops 148 m in vertical elevation. The average slope is 10.5 percent with some stretches reaching a maximum grade of 20 percent.

Men's bobsled team members prepare to push off on a training run at Utah Olympic Park Feb. 4.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Men's bobsled team members prepare to push

off on a training run at Utah Olympic Park Feb. 4.

The most difficult portion of the track comes during the "Gold Rush Trail." It is a four-turn series (turns 12-15) at the bottom of the run with no straightaway between turns. Crews go from turn to turn to turn to turn. (To get a feel of how fast the Whistler Course is, go to http://fibt.pixabit.de/index.php?id=216&track_id=36&L=0.)

"You have to watch out for Curve 13," SGT Rohbock said. "They call it the ‘50/50 curve.’ It pretty much is 50/50. You’re either on four runners on the end or you’re over. I crashed there this year and it’s not a fun crash."

"It’s such high speed, she continued, "I wish people knew just how fast it was. The TV does not tell you how fast the sleds are going. My hands are trying to move as fast as they can at the bottom. Sometimes I feel like it’s going to get to the point where it is beyond your physical ability to drive that fast, to drive the next curve, for your brain to catch up with your hands. So definitely the track is fast and it’s dangerous, but everyone has to go down the track."

Another aspect Winter Olympians have to compete with is the elements. The team’s skintight Under Armour uniforms do not offer much protection from the cold. Rohbock found this to be especially true at this season’s runs at Altenberg, Germany. She said the temperatures dropped well below zero.

A U.S. men's four-man bobsled team pushes off on the icy track at Park City.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

A U.S. men's four-man bobsled team

pushes off on the icy track in Park City.

"Most times there’s just so much adrenaline, you don’t even realize how cold it is, but when it’s minus 20 and you tear your pants and jacket off at the top and the cold air hits you, it’s cold. Sometimes too when it’s that cold, I don’t usually go down with gloves. I can really feel it on my hands and I’m like this course needs to end because my hands are so cold."

At colder temperatures the track’s ice will be harder, which Rohbock said will give the pilots less control. She said she would not mind a warm day, with maybe a light rain so they will have a little more control at Whistler.

Rohbock also had some advice for the viewers at home who will be cheering for her. She said the bobsled run is more than just those first five seconds at the start. It is important to watch for "speed killers." Watch for the sleds that are early coming into a turn because those will tend to jump high on the track where there are less grooves and less track ice. Also, if a sled is late for a turn, that could cause a big direction change. And obviously, "if you’re hitting the walls, that’s a bad run."

One event that viewers are sure to watch is the opening ceremonies on February 12. Rohbock said the feeling of entering the stadium behind the United States flag is "pretty much indescribable. The energy is so amazing in the stadium. It’s an awesome experience."

SGT Shauna Robhock, right, is interviewed for U.S. military publications Feb. 4 during the U.S. Bobsled team's media day.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

SGT Shauna Robhock, right, is interviewed for U.S. military

publications Feb. 4 during the U.S. Bobsled team's media day.

She said standing on the medal podium is equally indescribable.

"I hope this time it’ll be our flag being raised and our national anthem being played. It’ll be awesome."

When asked if that does happen, if she does bring home the gold, will the tears flow? She responded that tears will flow "for sure."

Rohbock plans to stay in Vancouver for the entire Olympics and take in as many events as she can. She said there is a great sense of camaraderie among the bobsled and skeleton teams this year, which they hope can turn into great runs, great results and great chances to medal.

And as they strive and slide for the gold the USA Bobsled team will definitely have the backing of the nation and its National Guard.