Gold medal-winning UF alum Steve Mesler returns to campus

Olympic gold medalist Steve Mesler holds his medal as he takes pictures with audience members after his speech at the Florida Gym on Thursday. Mesler is part of the bobsledding team that broke the United States' 62-year losing streak in the event at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Joel Mora/ Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:03 p.m.

The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during an Olympic training run that sent him flying off the track and into a metal support beam put the members of the U.S. bobsled team on edge, but they had to put the tragedy out of their minds if they wanted to compete, said Steve Mesler, member of the team and University of Florida alumnus.

"We have to go down the same exact track that just killed somebody," Mesler said he was thinking after he learned of the death.

"We couldn't think about it," he said. "You mourned it for probably about three minutes, then you put it way," he said. "He wouldn't have wanted us to suffer with it."

Mesler and his squad, known as the Night Train, ended up winning the gold medal in the four-man bobsled race at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, ending a 62-year drought for the U.S. men's bobsled team. The last time a U.S. team had seen gold was in 1948.

Mesler spoke to a crowd of about 100 people at the Florida Gym on the UF campus Thursday morning.

The event was organized by the College of Health and Human Performance, the college from which Mesler graduated in 2000. He spoke for free.

A decathlete on scholarship while at UF, Mesler had been plagued by injuries, including a torn ligament in his elbow. Looking for another sport, he sent an e-mail to the United States Olympic Committee asking about his chances of joining the bobsled team.

He said he began training in Gainesville by pushing his roommate's car while she sat in the driver's seat and steered.

Before winning gold at last month's games, Mesler competed in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics. Four years ago, in Torino, the team placed seventh, though it had been the favorite, he said.

"There's nothing more painful than having that expectation at the Olmypic Games and flopping," he said.

He said he promised himself he'd do everything he could to make sure it didn't happen again.

In a message that was part warning, part encouragement, Mesler told the student athletes in the crowd that training at an Olympic level requires a lot of selfishness.

"You have to eat at this time, you have to sleep at this time," he said. "It was all about me."

One of the best things about winning gold and getting to do the Gator chomp during the awards ceremony, he said, was knowing he gave the country something to be proud about.

"That was the coolest thing for me," he said. "That I got to give that to the country, if just five minutes as random people were cheering on their couches at home."

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