The fact that Josh Williamson hadn’t stepped on ice until about a month ago hardly makes him an ideal candidate to become an Olympic bobsledder.
Then again, if Williamson completes the journey from the lacrosse fields in Florida to a bobsled track in Pyeongchang next year, or Beijing in 2022, he will, in more than one way, be rewriting the script about how an American can become an Olympian.
He is one of eight athletes who have taken the newly opened reality-show route to earn a spot on a US national team camp, which is where America’s Olympians are eventually chosen. Williamson was one of about 3,000 athletes who signed up at a 24 Hour Fitness, passed the initial tryout phase, then made the cut down to 91 athletes, who were invited to the Olympic Training Center for a made-for-TV tryout camp.
From there, eight made national team camps for rugby, track cycling, bobsled and skeleton. Those athletes’ names were announced at the end of a reality show that aired Friday night on NBCSN called “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.”
“I think the reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because I haven’t expected any of it,” Williamson said. “I thought I’d go out, do my best, and with the work, some things have fallen in my lap.”
The 20-year-old Williamson grew up in Orlando, Florida, and traded in football pads for a lacrosse stick in junior high. He went to Mercer University in Georgia to play, but a series of injuries chased him out of the sport.
Back in Florida, he enrolled at Florida State and started working on a degree in finance. But he was a workout junkie, and never gave up on his dreams of making something more out of that. Williamson was planning on attending a bobsledding combine in August, when he heard about the US Olympic Committee’s program.
Williamson signed up, and once in Colorado Springs for the training camp, it didn’t take long for US bobsled coach Brian Shimer to recognize his talent.
“He’s only 20 years old, and very seldom do we get an athlete of that quality at that age,” Shimer said. “His speed, his strength, his power, the push, he’s everything we want to see in a bobsled athlete.”
Besides the eight winners, 23 athletes were invited to continue training in their respective sports.
The USOC’s director of sport performance, Alan Ashley, said this is an out-of-the-box way of identifying elite athletes, football players, runners and the like, whose skills might translate into an Olympic sport, many of which don’t get the mainstream attention as football, basketball, baseball and hockey in America.
“We’ve always believed in ‘talent transfer’, high-level athletes who may not make it in one sport but could try out in another,” Ashley said. “But when you think about all the college athletes out there, this could be a stepping stone for people to think about this in a different way.”
Exhibit A could be Williamson, who participated in last month’s National Push Championships in Calgary, and has plans to work out with the US team in Lake Placid, New York, next week. The Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and a spot on the team isn’t completely out of the question. The 2022 Games in Beijing might be more realistic.
“Steve Langton, Lou Moreria , these are guys I follow through Instagram, and now I’m there with them,” Williamson said of two of the best push athletes in the United States. “These are kind of my heroes, and I’m sitting next to them trying to compete. I figure no matter how I did, that was enough for me.”
However far he goes, Williamson can already say he made it to the Big Time, at least in a way.
On the reality show, he was a survivor.
“It was interesting, is the best way to put it,” he said of having the tryouts shot for packaging into the two-hour documentary-style program. “It’s harder for them, and sometimes they’d have to do a bunch of takes to make it look good on TV. The difference is, in athletics, you only get one shot at it.”