Former Gator decathlete sees success on the U.S. bobsled team

The U.S. Olympic 4-man bobsled team pushes off. Clockwise from far left, UF graduate Steve Mesler, Brock Kreitzberg, Pavle Jovanovic and Todd Hays.

Special to The Sun
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.


The Mesler file

  • SPORT: 4-man bobsled and possibly 2-man bobsled
  • AGE: 27
  • HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds
  • BIRTH PLACE: Buffalo, N.Y.
  • RESIDENCE: Calgary (Alberta) Canada
  • COLLEGE: Florida
  • WHEN IN GAINESVILLE: Works with UF and Oak Hall High track and field teams
  • TV LISTINGS: If Mesler competes in the 2-man, the first broadcast on NBC (WESH-Ch. 2) will be Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. The first 4-man competition is Feb. 24 and will also be shown on NBC as part of its 8 p.m. package.
  • RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENT: The USA 1 4-man team with Mesler as pusher won a World Cup event Sunday in Switzerland.
  • ON THE OLYMPICS: "I'm planning on doing as much as I can."
  • FUTURE PLANS: "I want to be a driver and I'm going to be looking in Gainesville for someone to be a pusher. I'm going to look at some football players who don't quite make it at the next level, but are big and strong and fast."
    The U.S. 4-man bobsled team from left, pilot Todd Hays, Brock Kreitzburg, Steve Mesler and Pavle Jovanovic celebrate on the podium after winning the World Cup race in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Sunday.
    In the pushing picture, I am on the left side of the picture. Todd Hays is in the sled already, Pavle Jovanovic is on the right side of the picture and Brock Kreitzberg is on brakes in the back of the sled. In the awards shot, it is from l-r, Todd, Brock, myself, Pavle. And the shot of the sled in the track, Todd is driving, Pavle, myself and brock from front to back. You have to trust me on that one :)
    The photographers name is Charlie Booker

  • He remembers that first time down the track - Oct. 4, 2001 - in Park City, Utah. His training would be given its first test, his new body its first experience with G-forces. Steve Mesler looked down the tube of ice and knew he wasn't in Gainesville anymore.
    "I thought it would be like a roller-coaster," he said by telephone from Innsbruck, Austria. "It's far more scary. It's much more miserable."
    Mesler, who was a decathlete at Florida from 1997-2000, has found much more success in his new sport - bobsledding - than in his old one. As a decathlete, he struggled with injuries.
    As a pusher, he is on the United States' No. 1 team heading to the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, next month and has a chance to be the first UF athlete to win a Winter Olympics medal. If nothing else, Mesler gives people in Gainesville a reason to watch.
    "As a decathlete, I didn't have the success I wanted to," Mesler said. "I had to listen to people tell me what great potential I had."
    He did record the sixth-best point total in UF history as a junior, but his years as a Gator athlete left him wanting more. Although he graduated in 2000 with plans to go into coaching, Mesler decided he wasn't finished being an athlete.
    Someone mentioned the bobsled, which led to an Internet search, which led to Mesler sending an e-mail to the United States Olympic Committee. And you thought becoming an Olympian was difficult.
    (Someone mentioned the bobsled to me and I started to shiver, went inside and watched "Celebrity Fit Club." But then again, nobody ever confused me with a decathlete.)
    Mesler liked the response he received from the USOC. The first order of business - put on some weight. If that were an Olympic sport, we would dominate the Winter Games. For Mesler, it meant working out with UF strength coach Ron Forbes. He also had to become more of a sprinter than a distance runner, so he went to work on the track and with the members of the Florida women's soccer team.
    "He showed us a lot of techniques that we still use today," said soccer coach Becky Burleigh. "And I'm sure it helped him, too."
    Bigger, faster, stronger, Mesler headed for training camp in San Diego and walked into what looked like an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-a-like contest.
    "I felt pretty good about how I'd trained," he said. "And then I walked in and these guys were all ripped to the gills. They were some massive human beings. I thought maybe this is not so much for me."
    But he stayed and soon was ready for that first run down the track. You think the big slide at Wet 'n' Wild is a rush?
    "It felt like someone had lit some dynamite behind me," Mesler said. "You feel like something's wrong. You go over the course with the driver and by turn five you have no idea where you are. The G-forces were like nothing I had ever felt before. All your organs are being pulled down into the sled.
    "I was the brakeman and I was so overwhelmed I forgot what to do. The driver was pounding me in the head with his elbow to pull the brake. I finally did and got out. My guts hurt. But I loved it."
    Mesler loved it so much he kept getting stronger and faster and eventually won a trip to the 2002 Games as an alternate, walking in the opening ceremonies but not competing.
    This time around, he is part of the best U.S. 4-man team heading to Turin and is also hoping to be part of the 2-man team. The 4-man team is one of the favorites, so Mesler has been practicing his Gator chomp for the victory stand just in case.
    The success of the team, including wins in two of the last three World Cup events, could mean that Mesler could bring gold back to Gainesville when he makes his annual spring trip to his college town.
    "His success isn't surprising because he is a very driven, very focused young man," said UF track coach Mike Holloway. "He had some injury problems here. His body just didn't hold up to the training of a decathlete.
    "I think he's grown into his body. He has found his niche in life."
    A very fast one. You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at or by calling 374-5053. Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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