Speeding down a twisting, turning, ice-covered track at 90 miles per hour on the banked curves of the Olympic bobsled track looks kind of fun—until you're in the sled.
"It's actually a violent ride," says Dan Steele, UNI's track and field head coach and brakeman for the four-man bobsled team that won bronze at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. "You can reach more than 5 G's in a turn and your body is compressed into positions you didn't think were possible.
"There is almost no padding inside the sled, so it's not uncommon to find yourself bleeding from minor injuries," Steele continues. "Bobsled crashes are the scariest things I've ever been through. It's like a car crash that won't end. Many great athletes have left the sport because of their fear of the ride. It's not an irrational fear."
Steele says the United States does not have a youth development program for the bobsled, so the sport's official governing body frequently recruits fast, powerful athletes from track and field and football to make up Olympic teams. Steele was one such athlete. He was a track and field standout at Eastern Illinois University where he was named a two-time All-American, an NCAA 400-meter hurdles champion and a nine-time Mid-Continent Conference champion.
After graduation, Steele became a member of the 1998 four-man U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team that competed in Nagano, Japan. He returned to his track and field roots the following year as a member of the silver-medal-winning Decathlon Team at the U.S. Pan American Games and as a member of the 1999 U.S. Track & Field World Championship Decathlon Team that placed eighth.
The four-man bobsled team in Nagano had some great runs, says Steele, but at the end of the competition, they found themselves in fourth place, missing out on a medal by .02 seconds. "It was a heartbreaker," he says.
At the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, the opportunity to give the bobsled another shot and end the 46-year medal draught on U.S. soil was too big to pass up. Steele once again returned as brakeman for the four-man team, which included Brian Shimer, Mike Kohn and Doug Sharp. The team made four runs over two days, with each time accumulating for a combined overall time. The time from their final run, which was nearly perfect, says Steele, was fast enough to propel them into the bronze medal position. The other American team participating received silver. "The celebration was insane," he says, recalling one of the best athletic experiences of his life.
"My athletic background in both bobsled and track and field has helped me as a coach," says Steele, who became UNI's track and field head coach in 2009. "I certainly know about perseverance. I know about sacrifice and hard work and going all-in on a dream. One of the most important things that has defined me as a coach and athlete is this: I'm not afraid to lose. I'm an incredibly competitive person and I love to win, but I've never been afraid of failing."