'Cool Runnings' Dream is Real for Chris Langton
Cornell lacrosse alum aiming for U.S. Olympic bobsled team
|Chris Langdon hopes to make it to
the Olympics this winter in Russia with the U.S. bobsled
Editor's note: On Sunday, former Cornell lacrosse player Chris Langton was named to the 2013-14 U.S. men's national bobsled team. He'll compete in eight World Cup events starting in November, a big step toward his ultimate goal of making the U.S. team that will compete at the Olympics in February in Russia. We talked to Langton a couple weeks ago and a version of the below interview appears in the November issue of Lacrosse Magazine.
When former Cornell midfielder Chris Langton tells someone new that he's a bobsledder, inevitably will invoke the 1993 movie "Cool Runnings," the sports comedy loosely based on the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Olympics.
Wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what we did.
Langton doesn't get offended though. Before he got into the sport — inspired by his older brother, Steve, a two-time world champion and 2010 U.S. Olympic team member — the movie was all Chris knew about bobsled as well. But a little more than a year after his first run on ice, Langton has a legitimate shot at joining his brother in Sochi, Russia, in February for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Why did you decide to bobsled?
I can vividly remember watching my brother at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I couldn't go to the games because they were in February and our first day of lacrosse practice was Feb. 1. I couldn't do that to the team. But I remember watching the opening ceremonies on TV with Rob Pannell and Mitch McMichael. I didn't expect to see my brother, but there were a couple close-ups of him during the opening ceremony. I could see that overwhelming pride and excitement on his face.
I've talked with him since about it, and every time he lights up and he's almost speechless. The thing a lot of Olympians will say is the thing they remember most wasn't their race or the time in the village, but the opening ceremonies. Once you walk out, and they're playing the national anthem and the guy in front is waving the American flag, that's when it becomes real.
I remember seeing him and knowing that's something that I wanted to hopefully one day experience. That was my sophomore year at Cornell. I knew then that it would be something I would want to try.
You trained with your brother during college, correct?
I lived in Lake Placid, N.Y., the summer before my senior year and trained with him. In bobsledding, it's an interesting dynamic. You train like a sprinter-weightlifter. Both speed and strength are important. I incorporated some lateral speed drills and endurance training, and I felt that the training benefitted me on the lacrosse field right away. I already was in great shape through working at Cornell, but it's kind of tough to get really strong and fast when you're running so much and practicing every day. You're body is taking such a beating that it's hard to maximize your strength. Having that summer to be focused on pure speed and strength was nice. My first few steps were a little faster, my shot got harder, and I could take hits a lot easier. It helped quite a bit.
Where do you live now?
I've lived at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., for the last year. Steve's been here for six years now. It's basically like a college dormitory, a big brick building. You have a roommate. There's a weight room, gymnasium and cafeteria. I live right across the hall from Steve. I moved here after I graduated from Cornell because I knew that I'd be trying bobsledding.
What was it like when you got to Placid?
It was very helpful having my brother there. I knew what I needed to do. I got here, trained, did a combine, almost like an NFL combine, and did very well. I got myself on a sled last season and competed in the World Cup for a few races. I'd always come into the fall for lacrosse at 210 pounds, and by the end of the spring I'd be down to 195. When I got to Placid, I had to put on about 25 pounds in a couple months.
What do most people not know about bobsled?
Every year there's a bobsled season. A lot of people see it in the Olympics every four years and think that's the only time guys compete, but there's different levels of competition. World Cup is the highest level besides the Olympics. I made what they call the America's Cup and that's a step below the World Cup. I did that for the first half of the season, and had some success. Then there was an injury, which is really the only way for spots to open up, and I got a call from our head coach, Brian Shimer, when I was in Park City, Utah, to tell me that a spot opened and I was coming up to the World Cup tour. The second half is in Europe, so that was really exciting. I went with the team in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France and Russia. I was on as an alternate for quite some time, but then I was able to compete in France on USA-3, and then on the Olympic track in Sochi, Russia. That was the last race of the season.
This year, our first race is in Calgary in November. There's a track in Whistler, British Columbia, Park City and Lake Placid. The first half of the season will be in three of those four locations. After Christmas, you fly over to Europe for the second half of the season and you're over there pretty much until the games. It's about a four-month season.
Are you on the same bobsled as your brother?
A version of this article appears in the November 2013 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.
No, my brother is pretty much the best in the world at what he does. For some reason, he was born to push bobsleds. He's big, fast and understands how to do it. He's on USA-1. He will be going to these Olympics, God willing he stays healthy. He's competing with Steve Holcomb on USA-1. They have high hopes. It's very realistic that they win medals in the two- and four-man disciplines. For now, I'm on USA-3 and very happy to be in that spot with Cory Butner. So, no, we're not on the same sled, Steve is considerably better than I am.
What's the tryout process for the Olympics?
There will be three sleds. Each sled has a driver and what they call brakemen, which is what I do. There will be nine brakemen considered Olympians, and there will be two alternates that will be brought in case someone gets hurt and to practice with the team. The first step is you try out, you do well and make the World Cup team. Then you race all season long. Come January there's a selection committee that consists of ex-bobsledders, our CEO, our coaches. They sit down, look at different criteria — your combine score, your international results, your ability to stay healthy — and pick the Olympic team. You'll have a good idea going in because you know where you stand after the whole season, but until January you don't know for sure, about a month before the games.
When was the first time you pushed a sled on a track? What was it like?
The first time I pushed on ice was early October of last year. I had this preconceived notion that it would be like a roller-coaster ride. But I was wrong. It's a much greater rush and the movements are so abrupt. My first ride I was able to keep my head up and watch the turns and see them as they came. When you're in a race you want to keep your head down and be as aerodynamic as possible. Bobsledding is so erratic. The turns come so fast and you're catching [G-forces] and whipping up onto a wall and coming back down before you know it. It's such a rush.
You don't get the feeling of losing your stomach because there are no drops. It's more you catch a lot of G's. There are some times when you're coming in on a flat at 80 miles per hour and you come through a turn and back on a flat. It's so fast. You kind of just have to be along for the ride.
What's your job on the bobsled?
In a four-man bobsled, the driver is up front and the two-guy and three-guy are behind him. They are both side-push athletes. We're all called brakemen, but the guy in the very back is the real brakeman, because once you finish your run there are a set of handles that you have to reach down and pull up, and it digs metal teeth into the ice to slow the sled down. I'm that fourth guy. I'm the last guy to get in the sled.
What do you do during a run?
You're pretty much dead weight, to be honest. Our job is to be human engines. We want to create as much speed and velocity at the top of the hill. A quick start, good velocity, and if you're driver drives well, it translates into a faster time at the bottom. We go to the starting line, we have our driver on the driver's bar, both side-push athletes are on the sides and I'm on the back. We call a cadence and sprint for about 35-40 yards as fast as you can. You load into the sled, which is a pretty difficult thing because you have four real big guys. I'm 6-foot, 220-pounds and I'm the smallest guy on our sled. So we load in while running at full speed on ice. You get in, and there are foot pegs and handles to brace yourself. You grab those and get as low as possible in riding position. When you're going 80 miles per hour down an icy track, aerodynamics has a lot to do with your speed and time. You hang on and pray it goes well. When we get to the bottom, I pull the brakes. We all pile out, get to the top and do it again.
How many comments do you get about the movie "Cool Runnings"?
I was wondering when that would come up. Pretty much whenever you tell someone you bobsled. Until my brother did it, it was pretty foreign to me as well. "What do you do?" "I live in Lake Placid, I'm a United States bobsledder." They ask you other questions and then that comes up without fail every time. I don't mind, because all I knew before I started bobsledding was "Cool Runnings." Where that movie is set, in Calgary, is where our first World Cup race is. It's funny now since I've raced there, I can watch the movie and pick out the turns. I know what they're going through. But that comes up pretty much every time.
What are the dangers of bobsled?
You can go up to 95 miles per hour on certain tracks. The sled is upwards of 500 pounds and you put in four guys all weighting about 220. There's a lot of mass going down the track. I've crashed twice in the last year. Because every correction by the driver is so minute, at that speed if you over-correct too much, you'll flip it. When you do crash, you can usually feel it coming because you realize, "I should be flat right now and I'm leaning toward my side." You brace yourself. We wear big helmets and are buckled up. You really grab a hold and try to get as low as possible below your riding position.
The sled will flip over, and you'll be on your head on the ice for up to a minute, depending on where you crashed on the track. The first time I crashed was an adrenaline rush for a minute straight. You can get ice burn, which is a friction burn. If you flip over and, say you're shoulder is pinned against the ice for past five seconds, the heat starts to melt the skin. Some guys have pretty nasty scars, and had to get skin grafts. Like any other sport, it can be dangerous. If you know what you're doing and are experienced and have a good driver, the dangers are limited. I'm never scared. I trust my driver. I've crashed a couple times and come out unscathed.