Olympians, yes athletes, well, er . . .

February 08, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER,NORWAY — LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- The national anthem is on order, the flag will arrive with the brakemen and the team jackets are due from Colorado.

Oh, and the advance on Gregory Sun's credit card has been raised to $6,000 so the captain and driver of the Trinidad and Tobago bobsled team can pay for important things, like actually renting a sled.

Is this a great Winter Olympics, or what?

"This is my first introduction to anything athletic," said Sun, a 31-year-old agriculture research assistant with a soft belly, a thin wallet and thick glasses.

Welcome to the world of Olympic tourism, or bobsledders on parade.

Apparently, virtually anyone with a passport and a dream can still come to the Winter Games.

Even British ski jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards looks like Nolan Ryan compared to some of these athletes.

The two-man bobsled team from San Marino is a couple of guys from Michigan.

Armenia is represented by a pair of New Englanders.

A Philadelphian is behind the American Samoa juggernaut.

And the driver of the Greek team is a lawyer from Minneapolis who visited Athens for the first time two weeks ago.

For all these Olympic first-timers, the inspiration is to grow up to be just like the Jamaican bobsled team.

Anyone for Cool Runnings II?

It was Gregory Stokes, a Jamaican bobsledder, who originally got Sun interested in the sport when they met at the University of Idaho. A year ago, he persuaded Sun to take a ride down the Canadian course in Calgary, Alberta, with another Idaho student, Norwegian driver Trond Knaplund.

"I will tell you, man, I was scared," Sun said. "I can't describe the fright. The driver said hold on and I held on. I got in and closed my eyes all the way. I decided then and there, if I'm going down in one of these things, I'll be the driver."

At least Sun stuck it out. There was a brakeman candidate from Ireland who took one run and got the next flight out for Dublin.

"It's not for everybody," Sun said.

Sun went to bobsled driver's school last November in Calgary -- and the rest is Olympic history.

"You can't be a tourist and a bobsledder," Sun said.

"If you are a tourist, you are going to kill yourself," said Sun, born and raised in Port of Spain. "You have to be mentally and physically prepared."

And make sure to bring plenty of cash.

Or at least a hefty credit-card limit.

Just ask Greg Sebald, 30, the lawyer turned Greek bobsled driver who goes around the Olympic Village wearing a Minnesota Twins T-shirt.

By his accounting, he has dished out $25,000 for sled rentals, travel, entry fees and training.

"When I started this, I first called the U.S. Bobsled Federation to ask how I could get a Greek team into the Olympics," he said.

"The guy on the phone said I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell," he said. "They just blew me off. Undaunted, I kept at it."

So Sebald is here.

And so is his sister, Greta, 28, a former United Way marketing manager who gave up her job to luge for Greece.

Their ties to the country go back two generations to their maternal grandfather.

"My brother called me up and said, 'Hey, would you like to go to the Olympics?' " Greta Sebald said. "I thought, 'Sure, we'll go watch.' "

Instead of watching the opening ceremonies from the stands, Greta Sebald will be at the front of the parade with the Greek delegation.

"When we raced into the athletes' village to register, I was beating on my brother's back, saying, 'We're here at the Olympics. We're here at the Olympics,' " said Greta Sebald, who has one top-30 World Cup finish to her credit.

Greg Sebald's bobsled brakeman is not quite as ecstatic to be here. On the whole, Christodoulos Marinos would rather be basking in the sun in Thessaloniki than hanging around a town with six-foot snow drifts.

After all, he's a water polo goalie for a team called Hercules. He's only doing this because his coach asked him to. The first time he tumbled down a bobsled run last November in Calgary, he got sick to his stomach.

"This sport is a winter sport," said Marinos, stating the obvious.

"It is a very hard sport. Very cold. Everyone in Greece is like, wow."

And do many Greeks know what bobsled is?

"Uh, no," Marinos said.

The Greek team earned enough qualifying points on the World Cup circuit to earn a place in the Olympics.

But it wasn't too tough. They simply had to finish five races over two seasons.

They even beat the Caribbean hopefuls from Trinidad and Tobago.

But Sun, the driver, doesn't care.

Don't call him a tourist.

"I can't believe I'm here," he said. "I'm an Olympian."

COUNTDOWN TO LILLEHAMMER

Tomorrow: Duncan Kennedy doesn't think of himself as heroic. He simply wasn't going to let 15 skinheads attack his U.S. luge teammate, Robert Pipkins, at a bar in the resort town of Oberhof, Germany, last fall.

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