From Vandal to Olympian
Exercise science alumnus Sam Michener competes with Team USA in the winter 2018 Olympics in South Korea
Heavy. That is how Sam Michener ‘12, described the moment he found out he would be competing in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.
“We had our meeting with the selection committee and all the bobsled athletes were in the room,” he said. “A lot of people don’t make the team; it was a quiet room. It was pretty intense, I don’t think I breathed very much during that meeting.”
The Gresham, Oregon, native is the brakeman for one of three sleds that qualified for the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team.
“My job is to call the cadence and that cues us all to start pushing the sled,” he said. “I’m the last person in but the first to sit down because we all kind of sit on top of each other.”
As the brakeman, he pulls in the bars used to push the sled and knows where the finish line is so he can pull the brakes.
“I have to be lower and more aerodynamic,” he said.
Started Out as a Sprinter
Michener started competing in 2012 and was placed on the national team in 2014. The U.S. Olympic team is always chosen from the national team members. He’s been preparing for the announcement of the Olympic team since July.
“After my collegiate eligibility ran out, Greg approached me and said, ‘You have some attributes that would be good for bobsled,’” Michener said. “I thought, ‘You know what? Sure.’”
Michener said Sun was a great resource during his time as a sprinter.
“I met him to go over goals. We developed a good relationship and then he fed me into the bobsled program,” he said.
Michener graduated with his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences in 2012. The skills he learned in the program helped him as a professional athlete, he said.
“Taking anatomy and physiology, I can better convey where I’m hurting with the particular muscle name. Talking to medical professionals, we can cover more ground faster and develop better training programs,” he said.
Michener said the time management skills he learned as a student-athlete have also been invaluable.
“It’s a whole routine. I was taking 15 credits, had three hours of practice each day and I still had to fly out on the weekends to go compete,” he said. “Everything as a professional athlete is still very regimented.”
Michener said it is common for sprinters and football players to become bobsledders.
“Most of us ran Division 1 track and field or played football in college and the NFL. After that goes away, we look into bobsled,” he said. “It’s a strength and speed sport, so if you’re strong and fast, you’ll do well.”
Michener played football in high school but decided to run track in college instead.
“I’ve always been a bigger sprinter and we train like bigger sprinters,” he said.
Not the First Vandal Bobsledder
During the run up to the Winter Olympics, the team is training in Lake Placid and Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and attending sponsorship events in Washington, D.C. They fly to South Korea on Thursday, Feb. 1, and start training Feb. 7.
“I love Korea. The venue is beautiful, I’m excited,” he said.
Michener is just one of several U of I alumni to pursue bobsledding after graduation.
Sun, Michener’s mentor, was a driver for the Trinidad and Tobago two-man bobsled team. He was the first athlete to carry the country’s flag in the opening ceremony of the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, where the two-man team finished 37th.
Nelson Christian Stokes, who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the College of Business and Economics in 1987, competed in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics as a member of the first Jamaican bobsled team. The four-man sled didn’t officially finish after losing control during a qualifying run and crashing. The team’s story was later turned into the Walt Disney movie “Cool Runnings.”
Stokes competed for Jamaica in the Olympics three times. While he worked as a business manager for auxiliary services, Stokes trained for the 1994 Lillehammer, Norway, Olympics in the ASUI-Kibbie Activity Center, pushing a makeshift sled several nights a week before the tryouts. The four-person sled team exceeded expectations with a 14th place finish, ahead of Russia, Australia, France and the United States.
Michener is proud to continue the Vandal transition, and the university will be rooting him on.
“I am so proud of Sam and excited for him to have this opportunity. Having known him during his time as a student-athlete at the University of Idaho, I am not surprised he put himself in this position,” said Rob Spear, U of I athletic director. “Sam has always gone about his work tirelessly and tenaciously, striving to be the best at whatever he sets out to accomplish. We are proud to call him a Vandal.”
Article by Tess Fox, University Communications & Marketing