Olympic Gold Medalist Shares Sochi Experience
Bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz recounts his awesome adventures on the ice.
Curt Tomasevicz’s illustrious bobsledding career includes three World Championship gold medals and one Olympic gold medal. However, the medal he appreciates most may be the bronze one he and his teammates won in Sochi on Feb. 23.
Because the competition was much greater this year than in years past, Tomasevicz sees tremendous value where others more cynical see only a third-best finish.
The Shelby, Neb., native’s sights have always had a special character to them, looking beyond outward appearances to an object’s deeper meaning. Tomasevicz has been interested in the importance of church architecture and liturgical practices since his days as an altar boy. He maintained that curiosity during his college days at the University of Nebraska, where he was a linebacker on the football team from 2000-2003. His curiosity for all things Catholic continued throughout his bobsledding career, which, after many triumphs, has likely come to a close.
Tomasevicz recently spoke of his athletic endeavors in light of his long-standing Catholic faith with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
You competed for the U.S. in the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, and in the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada. How did your Sochi experience compare with those in Turin and Vancouver?
Each year had a very different feel to it. In the 2006 Turin Games, I had only been competing in the sport of bobsledding for about a year and a half, so it was great to make the Olympic team that quickly. Just representing your country for the first time is an incredible experience, regardless of anything else that happens. From a competition standpoint, it was a wonderful learning experience to go up against the best bobsledders in the world. Curiously, though, the stands for the events were oftentimes half full, which was out of character for the Olympics. It was like the people in the area weren’t aware of what was going on. One thing I was very aware of outside the games was the art, architecture and history of the area. Especially from a Catholic standpoint, there were tons of examples of this. There were just too many paintings, churches and stories of saints to count.
In Vancouver in 2010, it was almost like being at home. It was just above the border in Canada, the language was the same, and there were many American spectators. That’s where we won the gold medal in the four-man event, so, of course, that was memorable.
This year in Sochi the experience was remarkable as well. Despite security, housing and cultural concerns going into it, the guys I was around had a rewarding time. Inevitably, there are going to be some bumps in the road with an event of such magnitude, especially when it’s so far from your own country. Yet in our experience, any problems that came up were taken care of quickly.
What about the competition in Sochi?
It was awesome. From the time we won the gold in 2010 to when we just won the bronze, the competition had gotten so much better. In 2010, it was basically Germany vs. the U.S., but this time, any one of six countries could have won the gold. Germany, the U.S., Latvia, Russia, Switzerland — even Great Britain — were all contenders. We won the bronze by three one-hundredths of a second in a very competitive field, so we’re very happy about that.
Bobsledding is not a very popular sport in the U.S., so how did you first get involved in it?
I knew in my senior year [at the University of Nebraska] that I wasn’t quite NFL material, but I still wanted to compete in something. That’s when I was introduced to bobsledding, which turned out to be what I’d use over the next almost decade to develop my God-given abilities.
How does your faith affect your performance as an athlete?
I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today without my background, where I learned self-discipline and developed the ability to maintain composure when competitive situations are tough. Everything around you might be going crazy, but when you’ve maintained a prayer life and sacramental life, you can be secure in what you’re doing.
Was your Catholic faith always a part of your life?
Yes. Most of the town of Shelby is Catholic, so the faith has been there for me from the start. When your life is centered around the Church, like it was for me in Shelby, it gives you the solid foundation you need. You can trust your neighbors, who are more like extended family than strangers who happen to live near you. Then at the University of Nebraska, the Catholic players had the opportunity to go to Mass before every football game. This was a much-appreciated gift, since college games are usually on Saturdays. It wasn’t as if we were obliged to go to Mass, like we would be on a Sunday, but the opportunity to go was still offered to us.
My faith also played a role in my academic minor, which was astronomy. The Church has a long history of supporting science, especially astronomy. A Catholic from Poland, Nicolaus Copernicus, first developed the idea that the earth rotated around the sun, which is known as heliocentrism. Blaise Pascal, Gregor Mendel (a priest) and Louis Pasteur are some other remarkable examples of Catholics who have made valuable advances in science. It’s easy to see that if you take creation to be a good thing, which the Church does, then studying that creation is also good, as long as it respects the laws of God and dignity of man.
What are some other aspects of the Church you appreciate?
I’m grateful for how the Church has consistently kept its moral teachings over the centuries. Some people want the Church to become more liberal, but there’s priceless value in the Church’s conservative character. Yes, the specifics of what we know on a natural level can develop, but that serves to strengthen, not diminish, the Church’s message about our basic human dignity. One example of this is in embryology, where the advances in ultrasound have shown more and more clearly that the unborn child is just that — a child, a magnificent creation of God that is owed respect. That’s what true science gives us: a greater, more vibrant understanding of what it means to be human.
Another thing I’m grateful for, especially in light of my Polish heritage, is the pontificate of John Paul II. I was born in 1980, so he had always been the leader of the Church for me. He knew the importance of young people, and he had the ability to communicate very well with them. This was formative for me as I grew up and learned more about being Catholic.
A third thing I’m grateful for is the Church’s architecture and the other ways it uses material objects to point to God. I was an altar boy at Sacred Heart Church in Shelby from third grade through high school, and I would ask questions about the incense, the colors of liturgical vestments and other things. The liturgy is not hastily assembled; it’s methodically planned out, with every material aspect having a spiritual meaning. All these objects are “housed” in the church-building structure, which itself has meaning. Ideally, it is a vehicle for promoting the teachings of the Church, so you have stained-glass windows and other things that reveal the life of Christ in a beautiful way that anyone can understand.
What are your plans now that the Olympics are over?
Well, there are about 15 different directions my life could go, but one thing I do know is that my days competing in bobsledding are probably over. I’ve traveled the world and done everything that can be done in the sport — in some cases, many times over. I’m grateful for that, and, now, I’ll most likely be transitioning into something new, at least somewhat so. It may be coaching. I’ll be getting away soon and spending time in solitude, thinking about my future. Growing up in a small town helps you to understand the value of silence and reflection, so I plan on using those gifts — and my tattered prayer book — to discern where God wants me to go. The future may include pursuing a Ph.D., getting married or any number of other things.
One thing I will do for sure is travel back to Europe. I’ll be going to Italy this summer with my mom to see some of the same things I did at the Olympics in 2006. We’ll also go to other parts of the country and other countries as well. That should be a great cultural — but most of all, spiritual — experience.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.