Todd Hays’ bobsled career comes to an end

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Illustrious has been the career of 40-year-old U.S. bobsled veteran Todd Hays, one of the sport’s great drivers. But after crashing his four-man sled during a training run in Winterberg, Germany last Wednesday, Hays emerged with dizzy spells, a condition Hays hoped indicated nothing more than a mild concussion. But after undergoing an MRI upon returning to the U.S. team’s training center in Lake Placid, doctors have advised Hays to retire.

In 2002, Hays cemented his place in history by piloting the U.S. four-man sled (with Randy Jones, Bill Schuffenhauer and Garrett Hines) to the country’s first medal at the Olympics since 1956. Hays actually led that competition after two runs, but dropped to third and then moved to second on the final run, ahead of teammate Brian Shimer on the medal stand.

He had always been a dedicated Olympian with a decidedly atypical winter-Olympian’s background. For starters, he was from Texas, a fine place to put ice in tea, but not on bob tracks. He played linebacker at Tulsa and then won a handful of ultimate fighting competitions overseas before the sport had truly caught on. He parlayed his strength and sprinting speed into a bobsled career in 1994, when he attended a skills session in San Antonio on a whim. He used money he had won at a fighting competition in Japan to purchase his first sled and became an alternate on the 1998 Olympic team.

Even after he rose up the U.S. Olympic tree toward the success of ’02, the ultimate fighter never lost his edge. In ’05, Hays was competing in Cesana Pariol, Italy, when he lost his footing while pushing the sled and actually drove the sharp-edged rudders of the vehicle over his right foot. He finished the run and said he felt fortunate not to have sliced off any toes. After his initial treatment he needed more surgery later after the wounds became infected.

After placing seventh in both the two- and four-man events four years ago at the Turin Games, Hays figured his career was at an end. Dabbling in football coaching at Baylor, Hays, though, found he missed the 80-plus-mile-an-hour thrill of bobsledding. He was back in form this year in Park City, where he placed second in the two-man competition with Steve Langdon before sustaining the injury in Winterberg.

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