The pinnacle of Nathan Gilsleider's diverse and interesting athletic career is now in sight.
The Claremore Christian graduate — who played baseball and basketball at Hesston College in Kansas; baseball at Eastern Oklahoma State College; walked on to the Oklahoma State football team and earned playing time; and spent one year with the Arena League Oklahoma Defenders football team — is now ready for his final push to make the USA Bobsled team for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea Feb. 9-25.
Gilsleider is already a national champion in the two-man bobsled with teammate Nick Cunningham. Making the Olympic team is still not a done deal, but is very much within his reach.
“My chances are as good as anybody else’s,” Gilsleider said. “I put myself in a really good position at the end of last season. Each year is different...you’re constantly being tested and being paired against each other. I feel confident in my chances, but I know anything can happen.”
However, Gilsleider faces more obstacles than just making the Olympic team. Tensions between North Korea, South Korea and the United States have escalated recently with the North, led by unpredictable ruler Kim Jong-un, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and showing force against the South and the US. If this situation continues, or gets worse, could the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) keep its athletes from competing in February?
“You don’t know what’s going on really,” Gilsleider said. “We have what we’re told and then we have what’s really going on. Last week, I was at Lake Placid at a team function and we were given some information — essentially they (IOC and USOC) are doing all the ground work for us.”
When Gilsleider and other Olympic hopefuls should be concentrating on getting better at their craft, they must think about the dire possibilities being that close to North Korea and a possible conflict, or even all-out war.
“I talked to a member from (USOC) and he told us essentially that North Korea...the guy is crazy, but he’s not suicidal. He knows if anything were to even appear as a threat, or come across as hostile, the entire world would be against them because we are all there at one time. It wouldn’t serve him a whole lot of benefit because North Korea would cease to be.”
In order to ease tensions, the idea of allowing North Korea to be a part of hosting the Olympic Games by hosting a few events was being considered. But Gilsleider and the committees probably wouldn’t go for that after what happened to American student Otto Warmbier while being held prisoner. He was beaten during his captivity and was later released to the US only to die a few days after returning home.
“I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that just from knowing that anything can be taken any way,” Gilsleider said. “I could sneeze in the wrong place or look at somebody the wrong way. I don’t know if they (IOC) would put us in that situation.”
Another interesting situation Gilsleider learned about the tensions between nations is that the United States and South Korea conduct naval maneuvers together every year.
“It happens to be in February every year, which is the Olympics,” he said.
The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Russia and recently the US boycotted the Russian World Cup.
“As a team and as a committee, we decided we didn’t want to be a part of it,” Gilsleider said.
He has been training at Lake Placid and in Calgary, Canada at indoor facilities to work on pushing and loading the sled. In a couple or weeks, Gilsleider will head back to Canada for the Push Championships, and then begin the season. And next stop, a possible Team USA jacket and a trip to South Korea.
Gilsleider said he should know about his Team USA status by around Christmas. Olympic bobsledders are chosen through a points system, similar to NASCAR. During the eight-event season, sledders earn points.
“Larger nations get at least two sleds with a possibility of a third in the Olympics,” Gilsleider said. “I’ll have five races under my belt before Christmas and there’s only eight on the season. Usually by about Christmas, I’ll have a good view of how well my sled is doing.”
Things are getting close now. He can feel the excitement. He is in the best shape of his life. He is ready for this dream to come true.
“We had a team camp last week and that started bringing home where we’re at,” Gilsleider said. “It’s the home stretch. You start filling out questionnaires and sizes for Olympic clothes, your opening ceremony stuff and starting to see that stuff lets you know it’s close. It’s a lot of fun that I have the possibility to do this...it’s pretty amazing.”