Former Boise State sprinter in the driver's seat for USA bobsledding

Nick Cunningham has joined the Army, switch places in the sleigh since the last Games.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comFebruary 16, 2014 

Nick Cunningham pilots the USA-3 sled during a training run for the two-man bobsled Friday in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Cunningham moved from brakeman to driver, and he’ll compete in two-man and four-man events during the Sochi Games. He’s the No. 6 driver in the world on the two-man sled, and No. 13 on the four-man.

DITA ALANGKARA — The Associated Press

Former Boise State track and field captain Nick Cunningham wears two American uniforms.

One as a soldier. Another as a bobsledder.

His Army job every winter: “To literally win medals. They are very, very good at backing me up doing that,” he said.

Cunningham, 28, is the world’s sixth-ranked driver in the two-man bobsled going into Sunday’s competition at the Sochi Olympics. He also ranks 13th in the four-man bobsled, which begins Saturday.

He competed in both events as a brakeman in 2010 in Vancouver, then set out to become a driver. His sleds finished 12th (two-man) and 13th (four-man) in Vancouver.

“After the last Olympics, I missed that Olympic buzz,” Cunningham said. “I went home to my parents’ house in California for maybe 10 days, and then I was on a plane out to Lake Placid (N.Y.) to do driving school, trying to learn everything I could. I knew it was going to come down to this year — and we managed to pull it out.”

Cunningham’s Olympic pursuit led him to the Army in 2011. The World Class Athlete Program helps him afford to pursue his dream.

Four bobsledders at this year’s Olympics — including two of the push athletes who likely will ride with Cunningham — and an assistant coach are in the WCAP program. U.S. bobsled star Steve Holcomb is a former WCAP soldier.

Cunningham committed to a six-year stay in the Army. He’s a sergeant in the New York National Guard and lives and trains in Lake Placid, N.Y. His company is based in Kingston, N.Y.

During bobsled season, Cunningham serves as an active-duty soldier for WCAP. In the offseason, he works for his unit in New York.

“If that unit gets deployed, I’ll be there with my company,” he said. “… They’ve helped me out so much. I wouldn’t think twice.”

Cunningham has not been deployed since joining. He assigned himself to Hurricane Sandy relief, though — driving to the New York/New Jersey area with his two-man brakeman, Dallas Robinson, to spend 48 hours helping residents clean up the damage.

Robinson, a WCAP member based in Kentucky, also serves on Cunningham’s four-man sled. This is his first Olympics.

“Looking back at all the adventures Nick Cunningham and I have had together, it’s been a cool four years, man,” Robinson posted on Facebook. “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer style. Let’s finish this last couple off right, bud.”

Part of driver school, Cunningham said, is finding brakemen with “the courage” to get in the sled with you. Cory Butner, who will drive a two-man sled in Sochi but lost the four-man spot to Cunningham, was in the same driving school with him.

“You’re all in the same boat,” Cunningham said. “You take a beating. There are guys who will try to drive for years and just can’t get it, but luckily for a couple of us, it clicked right away. … If you make a panic move, chances are you’re going to hurt yourself, hurt your sled and hurt your crew.”

Cunningham has improved from 22nd in the world in the two-man event in 2010-11 to 13th in 2011-12, 12th in 2012-13 and sixth this year.

He controls the sled with two D-rings that sit in his lap. He pulls the right one to go right, the left to go left.

The two- and four-man teams work in unison with no verbal communication.

Cunningham, who finished sixth in a World Cup in the two-man Jan. 25 and fourth in the four-man Jan. 19, said he’s getting medal-worthy pushes from his teammates.

“They’re definitely doing their job, and I have the tools to do very, very well in Sochi,” he said, “but I have to hit all my marks. It’s up to me now. No pressure, right?”

It’s pressure he wanted. Even before Vancouver, his sights were set on getting in the driver’s seat for Sochi.

His four-year odyssey culminates over the next eight days.

“We’re not usually in the spotlight when we’re on tour, so this is our one shot to show the world what we have,” Cunningham said. “We definitely want to make the best of it.”

Sochi is another building block for Cunningham, who is committed to the Army until 2017 and plans to compete through at least the 2018 Olympics.

“It’s too good of a gig to give it up just yet,” he said. “Learning to drive, it takes years to get good. I’m only four years in. Who knows how much I’ll learn in the next four years.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service