Hays plans to sleigh rivals
A former bull rider, kickboxer and professional brawler, Todd Hays has a passion for peril. Yet it was Hays's washout at one of the potentially dangerous sports that he loves so much that led the native of piping hot Texas to the Winter Olympics.
"I had two opportunities to make the Canadian Football League (CFL) and failed miserably. Twice," he said of what could be considered the least dangerous of his vocational pursuits. "I was the last guy cut each time."
Hays's quest for competition with a dangerous edge eventually led him to the bobsleigh where he is an Olympic gold medal favourite for both two and four-man events.
"When you get to the bottom on a real clean trip you feel like you've executed very well," the 36-year-old told a media summit for the U.S. Olympic team in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"It's almost like you score a touchdown, like you've really accomplished something. You get that rush," he added. "You get to the bottom and see you've got a fast time and realise your preparation has paid off. It's a lot like football."
Hays captured a silver medal in the four-man four years ago in Salt Lake City and in Turin hopes to become the first American since 1948 to claim an Olympic bobsleigh gold.
"I think about all of the hard work I've put into this," he said. "I think about the years of preparation. And I think about the opportunity that's before me.
"It's easy to motivate yourself, especially for the Olympics. Last time, I actually found that I had to tone it down because it was so intense. I had to bring it down a notch."
The 6ft 3in, 235-pound former University of Tulsa linebacker learned the hard way the problem of being too pumped up on the ice.
Hays can be forgiven if he is still learning the nuances of the sport. As a resident of Del Rio, Texas, he was in high school when he saw his first snowfall. After his ill-fated venture into professional football, Hays recalled his improbable jump into bobsleigh in 1994.
While Hays sat watching the David Letterman Show on television one night his brother told him they were holding bobsleigh tryouts 150 miles away in San Antonio the following day.
"He said the U.S. boblsed team was looking for guys with size and speed, so I thought I'd give it a try. My brother convinced me to go. I thought he was crazy. But we were on the road at 5am."
He passed a battery of physical tests in San Antonio and was brought to Lake Placid, New York, for the second tryout phase. Unlike the CFL, this time he just survived the cut. "Luckily I was one of the last guys picked in Lake Placid," he said with a broad smile.
Hays's upward spiral has been nothing short of remarkable. In Salt Lake, he helped snap a 46-year medal drought for the U.S. bobsleigh team.
"Going into 2002 we were labelled a 'long shot at best,'" he said. "And I really didn't like the 'at best' part of that. 'Long shot' would have done nicely.
"But since that time and since that World Cup season, we've proved that we can win on any track. Our chances are very good in Italy," he added. "There are five or six teams that are going to be right there for the medals. We have as good a chance as anybody."
Whether or not he lands on the podium in Turin, Hays has found a home on the bobsleigh. "Fortunately, I just love doing what I do," Hays said. "I have fun every day. I'm a grown man. I get to put on spandex and get into the fastest flyer in the world and get to have fun with my buddies all day long.
"It doesn't get any better than that. I'm not looking forward to getting a 9-to-5 job anytime soon."