Michener is ready to slide in Pyeongchang
Sam Michener hopes he feels like garbage on Friday night when he's hurtling down the ice for the opening heats of the Olympic four-man bobsled.
"Smooth is not good — often times a rocky ride brings the fastest times," he said. "It's like getting stuffed into a garbage can and kicked to the curb — it will shake you up all right."
The quest for an Olympic medal began a year ago when the team spent three weeks on the South Korean track, making 15 trips down its nearly mile-long tube.
"We dialed in the settings to be as quick as we could," Michener said.
The process continued shortly after the team arrived in Pyeong Chang, as team members put on spiky shoes and walked the course.
It's a process that Michener takes seriously.
As the brakeman in the back of the sled, he spends the 50-second journey with his head tucked down staring into the dark.
"I spend a lot of time memorizing the track — it's like a dance learning what it feels like," Michener said. "I don't get to see anything — no light — all I have is what I feel on my way down the track."
His duties also include calling out the cadence for the push start — a key first few seconds of the race that set your speed for the trip down.
Each Olympic track has its unique twist.
Whistler in 2010 was the fastest track in the world, while Sochi in 2014 featured a rare uphill segment. For Pyeong Chang it's all about G-forces created near the end of the track in turns 12 and 14.
"There are two negative G-force turns where the blades can come off the ice," Michener said.
This year's Olympic course also features a tight turn immediately before the finish line — a spot that Michener has emblazoned in his brain.
"I need to know exactly where the finish line is without seeing it," Michener said. "You cannot mess it up — these sleds cost a-quarter million dollars — if I don't pull the brakes in time that's a lot of money down the tubes — luckily I'm 100 percent on that."
Veteran driver Nick Cunningham is making his third appearance in the Olympics. He finished 12th in the four-man event in Sochi four years ago. Other members of Michener's sled include pushers Hakeem Abdul-Saboor and Chris Kinney.
The United States along with Germany and Canada qualified three sleds for The Games — in all 29 sleds will be competing for a place on the podium.
The teams have spent the last few days making training runs down the course with Austrian driver Benjamin Maier putting in the fastest time so far at 49.07 seconds. German drivers Nico Walthier and Francesco Friedrich have also posted winning days in training, while Canadian Justin Kripps won gold in the two-man race earlier in the week.
Among the Team USA sleds, driver Codie Bascue has put in the highest finish by posting the fourth-fastest time on Day 3.
Michener's sled has made steady progress, breaking the 50-second mark in each of its last two runs.
The first two competitive heats are scheduled to begin Friday with the final two heats on Saturday — starting at 4:30 p.m. both days. Total time across all four runs is used to decide placing.
"All three USA teams are pretty equal, and our goal is to put them on the podium," Michener said.
Michener's first week in South Korea was spent soaking up the Opening Ceremonies, while taking in events such as speed skating and luge. The team has also been busy with media appearances, including a stop on NBC's The Today Show.
"Opening Ceremonies was absolutely amazing, walking out there representing my country was the biggest moment of my life," Michener said. "It all went by very fast, at times it was hard to take it all in, it was almost too much."
This story appears in our Friday, Feb. 23, print edition.