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Olympic Bobsled analyst John Morgan talks about the sport and upcoming Olympic Games

Bobsledding during the 2016 Adirondack Winter Challenge in Lake Placid
Pat Bradley
Bobsledding during the 2016 Adirondack Winter Challenge in Lake Placid

When you think about the Winter Olympics, bobsled is among the sports that come to mind. At the upcoming games in Beijing, the mile-long sliding track has 16 curves and features, according to the International Olympic Committee, “the first of its kind in the world .... 360-degree turn.” Watching the sliders and scrutinizing every move will be Saranac Lake native John Morgan. For nearly 40 years he has provided live analysis and color commentary during international sports broadcasts and he will again be on the mic for the Beijing games. Morgan says this year due to the pandemic he will be viewing the games remotely as he provides his analysis.

Usually the analyst lasts one or two Olympics and some other athlete comes along that they put in the commentary box. And I've been fortunate enough I've got all the way here to my 11th Winter Olympic Games. All of a sudden I'm realizing myself that's quite an accomplishment.

What keeps you intrigued about bobsled especially at the Olympic level?

I was born and raised in the sport you know and my father was an athlete, national champion and my brothers and I were all competitors. That's what you do in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, New York where I was born you, you do winter sports. And my brother Jim made an Olympic Games in ‘76. I didn't make it in ’80. But then I got a chance to do commentary with ABC Sports. And here I am 40 years later still doing it and I get a chance to cover all the races for the last 25 years with the International Bobsledding. You know I’ve been a TV coordinator, producer, so I'm on site, except for the last couple of years because of COVID. You know I've been fortunate enough to work in my passion.

John Morgan, bobsled is an extremely fast sport obviously. So how, what do you focus on as you're providing the commentary and how do you manage to keep up with them as they're sliding down the track?

Well the first thing you look at is the start time. The first 50 meters is the start. There's no gas pedal on these things. It's a gravity sport. So the first thing you want to look at is the start. Then you want to watch the velocities, the speeds that they put up on the screen. The velocity will tell you a lot. You know you might not have the best start time. But if your team loads in the sled really well and you get around the first curve and you look at the speed you could have the best velocity. Of course the sled’s angle in and out of curves you can visually see that a lot of times. But I think keeping track of the speed is probably the most important asset in in calling a bobsled race.

John Morgan, you mentioned ‘loading the sled’. Is the way the athletes are positioned in the sled and how they're sitting during the race a critical factor too?

What we say at the top of the track loading a four man bobsled is like choreography on ice. They practice it over and over and over again. And the U.S. bobsled team’s becoming pretty good at the start in the four man bobsled because New York State's built his brand new indoor ice push track. If you don't have good start you have no chance. But the U.S. teams are really becoming really good at loading in the sled. So one thing is to push and then at 20 - 25 miles an hour you got to jump on this little side rail and then you got to get in with cat like movement efficiency, we say, see now without altering the sled left or right. And then the riders got to get in there in an aerodynamic pose behind the driver. Because we're dealing hundredths of seconds you're dealing with air. The exit of the air in the back of the vehicle is called dirty air and you want to have less dirty air than anybody else, you know, for aerodynamics. So it's important for the team to be in there comfortably. You can't just take a sled off the rack and get in there and hope you all fit in there. You really have to work it positioning yourself and being comfortable. And then riding down the track, I mean, in the old days, they used to say the guys were just sandbags. Well, this day you have to feel yourself down that track. You can't be leaning one way and the sled going the other. I mean you're dealing with hundredths of seconds. So there's a tremendous cohesion from start to finish from the way you push off the sled to how you get in and to how you ride down the track.

You will be providing commentary virtually because of COVID for the Beijing Olympics. How difficult is that when you're used to actually being at the track?

Well the last two years because of COVID I've been doing all the European events live right from my house. You know, with remote commentary, the technology is unbelievable. My broadcast partner is in Manchester, England. But it doesn't affect I think my ability to call the race. But what it does sacrifice and compromise is my ability to get all the inside information from the athletes, which I usually do when I'm on site. You know, find out if these two guys have got the flu. Oh number four guy here, the brakeman on this four man team, got a bad hamstring. You know, this guy here his sled’s falling apart. You find out all that inside information. So I'm going to be compromised with all that information. But I have such a good relationship with the athletes. I got all their Instagram accounts and their emails. So I'll be relying a lot on social media to get my information this time.

Well based on the information that you have what's your assessment of the sliding teams that will be in Beijing? Which teams should we be watching for in the Olympic Games?

Well there's this German guy named Francesco Friedrich. He's like a Tom Brady of our sport. He's the greatest of all time. He won 14 of 16 races this winter. He was undefeated in the whole calendar season of ‘21. I mean the guy's just, he's just the Superman. And so he's, he's the guy. I mean it's his race to lose as far as I'm concerned. And then there's a bunch of other characters. Justin Kripps from Canada who tied Friedrich in the two main competition in Pyeongchang, Korea there four years ago. They tied to the 100th of a second for the gold medal. You know, in women's bobsled, the Americans Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers, there's a new sport called monobob, woman's monobob, a single one person sled. It’s in the Olympics for the first time. The women didn't have four man bobsled available to them. There's not enough athletes for it so they created the woman's Monobob. It’s going to be very exciting, Not because Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers are the two favorites to win the gold. But you know, it's going to be exciting visually to watch because they're their sleds are lighter. They bounce around the track a little bit more so they get a little bit more trouble. It'll be exciting to watch it. But the men’s American team I don't know if they have good, you know, they got a couple young pilots. You know Hunter Church from Cadyville, New York is great representation of the United States. Young kid, third generation bobsled. Gone through some injuries this year. Didn't get a chance to slide on the Chinese track in October when they had the pre-Olympic tester because he had a broken foot, broken toe. And this other kid, Frank Delduca, the driver, just brand new, Just got elevated up to the Olympic driver, and he's never been on that track, either.

Obviously you're going to be doing this virtually. Have you been able to actually get a an assessment of the sliding track in Beijing particularly since you’ll only be able to view it remotely?

I'm doing the best I can. You know, I've got all the engineering information. There was a World Cup luge event that was there in November. It was televised, watching that. So I'm going to be keenly interested in the training runs. You know, it'll be the first Olympic track that I you know, that I've not been to. Usually there's a pre-Olympic test one year before. Well, I didn't go to that one either because there wasn't one. COVID has wiped that off the map too. But not seeing the track, yeah it sort of handcuffs me a little bit but I think I'll get through it.

John Morgan, you were in the movie Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsled team back in the 80s. Do we have any underdogs with potential in the upcoming Olympics?

The Jamaicans will be there. You know, they're the most famous team in the world. You know and they qualified for the four-man for the first time, I think, since ‘98. They're going to draw all the attention. In the movie, I got hired to play myself because I did the call in 1988 when the Jamaicans crashed in Calgary, most famous bobsled crash in the history of the sport. And, you know, I'll probably have more people ask me questions about the Jamaica team than anybody else. And I always remembered going to the ‘88 Olympic Games, big press conference for all the teams who were standing in front of their sleds, all the media was there. And I bring in ABC Sports cameras and there's nobody around all the top guys. And I’m looking around so I entered this is great. I got time to interview and we interviewed them. I looked down way at the other end. And they had lined the sleds up according to World Cup points. So way at the end there’s like all these people way at the end. I go ‘wonder what that is down there’. I went down there. It's all the media were all over the Jamaican bobsled team. You know and I'm from the bobsled world and I was like this isn't right. But all of a sudden I walked away from there going, yes this is right. People forget that that the Jamaican bobsled guys they were sprinters. They were great athletes. And they had never even driven a four-man bobsled when they got to Calgary. And for them to do what they did they had to be crazy brave. They had no idea what they were doing. But when I mention the word bobsledding first thing that most of the people say to me, Cool Runnings, Jamaica. I think it's a great story and the story will continue.

So John Morgan, when can we watch and hear your commentary during the Olympics?

I'll be doing the two man and the four man bobsled competitions.

The 2022 Olympic opening ceremonies will be broadcast in the US on February 3. I'm Pat Bradley WAMC News.