Greg “Trinidad” Sun’s first bobsled crash was in Calgary. There was another in Park City. The head-rattler in Lake Placid. Can’t forget Italy, because that one still causes pain in his back. That spill at bobsled driving school stung, but he earned his license anyway.
“Trinidad” or “Trinny” as he’s known by on the Palouse, where he’s a weight-lifting instructor for Idaho’s men’s track team and a volunteer strength coach for Washington State women’s crew and basketball, grabs his helmet from the back of his Jeep and describes the battle scars.
“That one,” he says, pointing to a scrape on the side, “turn four, Calgary. This (gouge near the top) was from Park City. I came out too high exiting the turn.”
In 12 days, Trinny will hurtle down the bobsled track at the Winter Olympics near Nagano at roughly 70 miles per hour.
Right side up, he hopes.
“The sled makes a lot of noise with the metal runners on the ice and the metal and fiberglass rattling,” he says. “I remember distinctly before my first crash there was a split second of silence. Then there was ice coming up in my face and you start smelling the fiberglass because it starts burning.
“I always wondered why the medical people were at the bottom of the track. I’d say, ‘Suppose we crash up top?’ And they’d say, ‘We’ll see you at the bottom, don’t worry about it.’ “
He’s spent about $22,000 to represent Trinidad and Tobago. The country has yet to pitch in a cent, but Trinny is hoping for some reimbursement this go-around. As he did in the ‘94 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, Trinny has maxed out the $6,000 limit on his Visa card. Thankfully, most of his Nagano expenses already have been paid.
Trinny, the driver, and brakeman Curtis Harry will be Trinidad’s only representatives, just as it was in Lillehammer when Trinny carried the flag during opening ceremonies.
He’s rented one of the Canadian team’s backup sleds. It’s one of the better ones he’s used in competition. It’s only a few years old - not as sleek as the latest models - but more streamlined than most he’s driven.
“I have a saying,” he says with an easy laugh. “These sleds cost $29,000 and you still have to push the thing to start it.”
Intro to sledding
Trinny loves and fears bobsledding, to which he formed a reluctant attachment in 1991.
He left Trinidad, an island in the West Indies where track, soccer and cricket are the popular sports, to attend Idaho in 1984. In 1987, UI track coach Mike Keller was recruiting in Trinidad when Trinny was home on Christmas break.
Trinny had seen articles about Keller but never met him. A Trinidad paper mentioned that Keller had lost his luggage on the trip.
Upon returning to Moscow, Trinny met Keller and teased, “Hey, I saw a bunch of people back home wearing Idaho shirts all over the beach.”
They formed a friendship and Trinny began driving the team van, videotaping athletes and assisting at meets.
In 1991, UI track athletes Trond Knaplund, of Norway, and Chris Stokes, from Jamaica, went to Calgary for a bobsled race and asked Trinny to go along.
“I just wanted to go somewhere,” said Trinny, who had earned a degree in animal sciences and was a research assistant for the USDA.
Knaplund drove the two-man sled for the Norwegians. Stokes was brakeman for the Jamaicans. Hanging out at the track, Trinny talked to a Canadian coach who suggested he form a team for Trinidad.
Trinny visited with the Jamaicans, who divulged vivid details of their crashes. “Heads dragging on the ice going 70 miles an hour,” he said. “Most of the Jamaican guys had had skin grafts.”
Trinny took one run just before leaving Calgary. “But I went with the Norwegians,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t trust you Jamaicans.’ “
His first trip was memorable - especially after he resumed breathing.
“I screamed the whole way down. I’d never felt so much pressure because of the G forces,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to ever do it again.’
“They said, ‘If you drive, you won’t have as much pressure.’ I said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ “
Trinny went back to Calgary in 1992 for bobsled driving school. Instructors told him the key was avoiding crashes over the first three days. Ireland’s team crashed on its opening run and caught the next flight out of town.
Trinny crashed, too. “On the fourth day,” he said, “so I made it.”
Now certified to drive, Trinny became more devoted to bobsledding, or bobsleighing as it’s called in much of the world.
He started lifting weights and scheduled appointments with UI nutritionists, physiologists, psychologists and the training staff.
Trinny eyed a 1993 debut in Calgary. Through a mutual friend, he phoned a countryman, Rodney Woolford, based in Chicago, who agreed to be the brakeman.
They crashed in their first race. “The next day Rodney wraps his whole body in all the pads and towels he can find,” Trinny said. “I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I thought you could drive.”’
Trinny went on to race well, earning 11 points out of 20 necessary to qualify for Lillehammer. He qualified after races in Lake Placid and Italy. Along the way, he added Trinidad’s Curtis Harry, who would become his brakeman.
Next stop: Lillehammer
Trinny called Trond Knaplund, who was bobsled track manager for the Games, for help renting a sled.
“So we’re driving to the track and on top of a gas station there’s a car, a two-man sled and a four-man sled,” Trinny says. “Our van driver is laughing, ‘Guys, there’s your sled.’
“I see Trond later and he said he’d got us a sled. We came back the next day and on the drive we see the sled is gone from the roof. We get to the track and there it is.
“That’s probably why it was only $200 for the week!”
By then, Trinny was learning nuances of bobsledding. The 15-meter start - where both men push the sled before hopping inside - is crucial. The two must work in tandem to generate a burst of power and speed. A start 1/10th of a second slower than the fastest racer translates to 3/10ths slower at the finish.
Veteran drivers memorize the courses and understand their sled’s handling abilities. But there is no substitute for experience.
Yet, physical skills probably weren’t as important for Trinny as overcoming his race anxiety. He couldn’t eat breakfast on race days. He gobbled down Rolaids and Tums, and suffered dry heaves.
Trinny explained to a UI psychologist that his lack of experience made him uncomfortable and that crashing was a constant fear.
“The only way to learn is to drive four or five times a day, every day,” he says. “You can’t stop in the middle of the track and say you’re too high here or this is where your hands should be. And the crashing thing was always in the back of my mind.
“The psychologist asked, ‘Can you kill yourself sledding?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so. It’s not that dangerous. Probably the worst thing is to break a limb, or strain your back or neck. That helped me a little, but you just get a little anxious, you know.”
After finishing 36th out of 43, Trinny vowed to be better prepared for Nagano.
Trinny maintained his training and returned to racing in 1996. Olympic qualifying standards had been elevated, partly, Trinny believes, “because they were mad I started driving in November of ‘93 and here I was in Lillehammer in February of ‘94.”
His schedule is packed. He still works part time for the USDA. He still works with track, which helps pay for classes he’s taking to earn his master’s in sports science in May. He’s helping WSU athletes, too.
“He’s an interesting guy,” Keller says. “He’s great at handling people. He talks to a few problem kids and he gets them straightened around.”
Trinny qualified for Nagano, but he’s had three crashes in the last three months. Nonetheless, his physical conditioning is excellent and he’s become more at ease driving.
He left for Nagano two days ago and races on the 13th and 14th.
“I’m hoping for top 30,” says Trinny, who estimates the size of the field at 45.
He races for Trinidad, but realizes his career has been assisted at every turn by Idaho and WSU.
“They’re as much a part of this as I am,” he says.
Trinny hopes to switch to the four-man sled for the 2002 Games in Utah. Even if he does, his goals will remain the same: Have fun, keep laughing and drive safely.
He recalls razzing he took after a crash in Calgary.
“The Jamaicans were saying, ‘We saw you going down on your head through the corners. You’re not going to go very fast that way.’ I said, ‘Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.”’
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color Photos
Click here to comment on this story »