It takes a special sort of person to get back on a luge after crashing a bobsled at upwards of 85 miles per hour and win. Geoff Gadbois is just that sort of person.
Geoff Gadbois, Milton, Vt.
At 24, 2022 Olympic hopeful Geoff Gadbois has taken, by his count, more than 2,000 bobsled runs.
Born and raised in Milton, Gadbois got his start in the junior bobsled program at Lake Placid, N.Y., at the age of 14. Since then, he’s put in some impressive finishes at World Cup and North American Cup events and on March 3, 2019, Gadbois piloted the two-man sled that earned Team USA a bronze at the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation World Championships in Whistler, British Columbia.
During the race, Gadbois’ sled maxed out at 93 miles per hour to descend the 4,760-foot track in less than a minute.
It was a bold performance from a pilot who, just two days prior, had flipped his
sled after entering a curve too late on the very same track. He and his teammate, push athlete Adrian Adams, slammed against the ice at 85 miles per hour, sliding, still in the sled, to the track’s base at such high speed that they yo-yo’ed back up the track and into the last curve before officials could extricate them. Both walked away.
“My wife and I were watching from Vermont,” recalls Geoff Gadbois senior, the athlete’s father. “It was 45 minutes before we got a text from him letting us know he was ok.”
The sport of bobsled is incredibly precise. Drivers win (or lose) the podium in the blink of an eye and the whole event takes place in less than a minute. It’s one of the Olympic speed sports that are timed down to a one-hundredth of a second.
Divided into two events: four-man and two-man, a bobsled run starts with either one or three “push athletes,” some of the biggest, fastest sprinters on the planet, pushing a 300 to 500-pound sled as hard as they can for 50 yards before jumping on board and entering the luge. At that point, they put their faith in their pilot.
With as many as 22 turns to navigate in under a minute, the driver turns the sled by applying gentle pressure to its four rounded runners. The brake is never pulled until the track’s terminus, and the slightest imbalance in weight or movement can cause a craft to flip at speeds of up to 95 miles per hour.
“Crashing is not fun, but the only way to get over a crash is to get right back out there and drive the track again,” says Gadbois.
Gadbois also drove the sled that took first place in the four-man bobsled at a North American Cup event in Calgary, Canada, on January 10, 2019. The following day he took second place in the two-man at the same competition, and on Jan. 13, he took second place in the four-man bobsled in Calgary. And this past November, he took a third- and fourth-place finish in the two-man bobsled at a North American Cup event in Lake Placid.
Here’s how you can take a bobsled ride on the very same track the U.S. Bobsled Team competes on in Lake Placid.
“It was the speed that drew me in,” says Gadbois, a former lineman for Milton High School’s football team. He’s competed on Team USA since 2014 with several years of top 20 finishes at World Cup and National Championship events and the odd top five finish.
“I have had the opportunity to compete against Geoff for many years as well as coach him and his team during the past season,” says U.S. Bobsled Team coach Nick Cunningham. “He has transitioned from someone that is relatively unknown within the US program to someone who is known by name around the world.”
Currently, Gadbois is one of 12 athletes on the U.S. Bobsled Team, and one of only three pilots. All three are younger than 24, which bodes well for the team’s development over the next eight years. Pilots tend to get better with age, with athletes peaking in performance well into their thirties. “It takes years of experience and driving many tracks all over the world to become a good pilot. As a team, once you’ve got your start down and you’re driving at a high level, equipment really makes a difference in this sport,” Gadbois says. As of now, Gadbois is a serious contender for one of three spots on the Olympic team. “I’m really making a big push for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing,” he says.
The United States has not earned a gold medal in men’s bobsled since the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, when the late pilot Steve Holcomb, the most decorated American bobsledder of all time, earned a gold medal in the four-man bobsled—the first for an American man since the 1948 Olympics.
It was Holcomb who nicknamed Geoff Gadbois “50-50,” at the first Driver’s camp he participated in at age 15, says Gadbois father. Geoff Jr. crashed 11 out of 22 runs on the track at Lake Placid—a notoriously challenging course. “It was a way of saying, hey, this kid has an intuitive ability to handle challenge in a very precise, very difficult situation. He may not be perfect yet, but he’s got gall, and there’s something there.”
For more 2019 Vermont Sports Athletes of the Year, head here.
Featured Photo: Geoff Gadbois, 24, of Milton is one of the most promising pilots on the U.S. Bobsled Team. Photo by Molly Choma