Steve Mesler pushed Steven Holcomb and the Night Train sled to the four-man gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, ending a 62-year gold-medal drought for the U.S. in the event.
Mesler recently visited NBC Sports headquarters and previewed the U.S. bobsled pilots and push athletes, provided his Olympic medal predictions and discussed how he will be involved in PyeongChang.
The following exchange has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
23-year-old Codie Bascue has emerged as the top U.S. bobsled pilot. What makes him special?
It’s in his blood. When you learn how to drive Lake Placid, you can drive anywhere. That track is so gnarly, but since Codie learned to drive there, it’s normal for him. Everything is wicked unless it’s all you know, and then it’s just normal. His normal is the most difficult, technical, scariest track in the world. So nothing is daunting for him.
You won an Olympic gold medal in 2010 pushing alongside Justin Olsen. Now he is a pilot. How would you describe his competitive spirit?
It’s incredible. He won a gold medal at 22. To do that and vanquish the number of guys he had to get through to get to that point…Olsen is a competitor and that is probably his greatest strength, but also potentially his greatest weakness. You can’t force it when you’re driving at the Olympics, but as a push athlete, you can. As a push athlete, you can go as hard as you can, but as a driver, you have to have that control over those feelings. I am really curious to see how he handles that.
Nick Cunningham was also in Vancouver as a push athlete, although in a different sled. What has he showed you as a pilot?
Nick is another guy we just don’t know about. The best thing for Nick is a track like Korea that not many people have been on many times because it becomes a wild card. Nick has not had the type of season he would like to have in an Olympic year, but on a new track, it might click for him.
In what ways will the impact Steven Holcomb had on USA Bobsled be felt in PyeongChang?
It will be felt by everybody. There’s not going to be one guy on that hill who hasn’t lost to Holcomb over the last eight or 10 years.
For the guys who are competing, it will be a flash that goes through their heads, but then they will have to put it aside because they can’t think about it, and they’ve already thought about it all season long. The hardest day for them was probably that first day back on the hill, and every day has gotten a little bit easier…When you are competing, you can think about it, but then you have to put it in your box and put it to the side.
When you watch USA Bobsled today, which push athlete reminds you of yourself?
Evan Weinstock, probably because the coaches tell me that. He’s a better athlete than I was, but he has this work ethic and leadership quality that the coaches have said they’ve been looking for the last handful of years. There was a vacuum, since [Steve] Langton was gone and [Chris] Fogt was gone and all of those guys. They’ve seen Evan step into that role.
If you had to pick one, which U.S. bobsledder is the best athlete?
Steve Langton is ridiculous. I was planning on retiring after 2010 and I was ready to move on, but even if I wasn’t, I would have looked at the guy knocking on the door for my spot and left anyways. I would not have wanted to continue competing against him.
What is the best-case scenario for the U.S. men in PyeongChang?
I think we are going to have a really difficult time in two-man. It will depend on the start. If those guys can really fire it out of the hole, then they have a shot, because the track is up in the air. I would love to say that Codie is going to adapt to this track quickly and he’ll be in the mix, but I think that’s a really tough one. I think Olsen has a better shot in two-man because he’s been there. If anybody is going to do it, I’d say Olsen is an outside shot at a medal.
In four-man, by then, Codie will have had more time on the track because he will have had all of the two-man training and all of the four-man training. That should be enough time for him to have the right feel for the track. So I would put him as an outside shot at a medal.
Which international teams are you keeping your eye on?
The Canadians have been really good, Justin Kripps and Chris Spring. They have had high hopes for Justin for a long time, and he’s finally developing. Chris is a battler and he can get after it.
The Swiss have had a better year than they’ve had in a long time.
Who is your pick to top the podium in PyeongChang?
There’s been more teams medaling this year than I can ever remember. There are probably six or seven team that can win, which is way more than in 2010.
The Germans are going to be really tough to beat there. They’ve been pushing fast, and their equipment is running.
I’d say pick a German and put them in gold. It pains me to say it, but right now, they are just too strong and they’ve been too consistent this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Germans win two meals in each.
You are now the President and CEO of Classroom Champions. How will the organization be involved with the 2018 Winter Olympics?
We have these live chats on a regular basis where he have a couple of athletes on a panel and open it up to schools, teachers and kids everywhere to be able to watch.
During the Games, we will have a group of Olympians who have finished competing on a panel. The goal is that every single school in America will be watching this from their gym, auditorium or classroom. We are going to open it up to several classrooms to be able to ask questions directly to the athletes. We want to show kids that these athletes who they’ve been watching on television every night for two weeks, who they’ve seen win and lose and celebrate and cry, are just like them. Those athletes aren’t special human beings; they are normal people just like them. That’s what Classroom Champions is all about, these authentic relationships between these athletes who are doing big things and students everywhere.
Classroom Champions’ third Student Champion Chat of the 2017-2018 school year, focused on the topic of Goal-Setting, will stream live from South Korea on February 22 at 1:00 pm (ET). The chat will feature 4-5 of America’s best athletes competing at the top levels of their sport. Available via NBC Sports Group’s youth sports division, SportsEngine, it will be open and free to every classroom in America by registering at www.studentchampionchats.org.