The Dating Game (10/11/13)

BY BREE SCHAAF

Some of the talented brakemen: (L-R) Lauryn Williams, Cherrelle 
Garrett, coaches Mike Dionne and Todd Hayes, me, Katie Eberling,
Aja Evans
Lolo Jones, Cherrelle Garrett, me, Lauryn Williams  

It’s open season. Let’s go hunt some wabbits…

Bachelorette number one — do you like long walks off short docks/bob-starts?

There is a phenomenon every year at the bobsled national team trials that few outside the sport are aware of… it’s the annual bobsled “Dating Game”! Qualified contestants go head to head in a battle of wits and wooing, trying to outsmart the competition and lock down the best athlete as a racing partner for these critical races. With Olympic dreams on the line, this is more like “The Hunger Games” than the “Dating Game,” where strategy, alliances and flattery determine who survives to go on to the next round.

The U.S. national team trials are “athlete’s choice,” which means that it is up to both the brakeman and drivers to choose whom they will race trials with. What once was decided by coaches is now determined by a complex dance of drivers wooing brakeman and vice-versa. There is far less liability on the federation if the athletes themselves form teams. When you have certain drivers and brakemen that are a cut above the rest, imagine the favoritism lawsuits that ensue if the coaches have all say.

As per our criteria, it is the coaches that match drivers with brakemen based on rank and/or athletic compatibility on the world cup tour. So these “athlete’s choice” races are clearly a different ball game. If the phrase sounds like a high school dance theme — replete with awkward teenagers standing around a gym while a band plays and no one is courageous enough to grab a partner to dance — that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Change the setting to San Francisco bay. Tow some rubber seals behind a boat, put the coaches in cages to safely watch, toss in some chum for good measure, and let the Shark Week Hunger Games begin! Only in this episode of Shark Week, the seals have a say as well. This is what it’s like Olympic year when the national team trials all but name our Olympic Team.

So in this high stakes dating game there are multiple factors to consider:

1)      Rank is only a label; any driver can recruit any brakeman, and vice-versa.

2)      A higher ranked brakeman can drastically increase the odds for a lower ranked driver.

3)      A better pushing driver can increase the odds of a lower ranked brakeman.

4)      Strategically keeping a higher ranked brakeman out of a close competitors sled.

5)      How the driver’s and brakeman’s strength and weaknesses line up.

6)      ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

Much of the game is played like a casual singles potluck, people politely hinting to everyone that they are open to possibility. You can’t risk upsetting someone you might end up needing, after all. But then suddenly the music stops (when drivers must submit teams by Sept. 1) and there are only so many seats left in the room. The quick ones are left comfortably seated while the stragglers body-check each other out of chairs.

I don’t normally compete for “chairs,” as I’m the type to just make my own chair if they run out. I also like to fully assess any situation before making a decision, but the inclination to watch the brakeman race for “chairs” a little first could leave me in the dust. So I chose to sit down early this year and save the stress of furniture building. After all — I’ve never been good at dating.

Like dating, ideally you’re looking for that special someone that completes you and appreciates you as much as you do them. But at the end of the day it’s purely about performance, so you ask the hottest/best bachelor/bachelorette, and if they turn you down you go to the next one right down the line. Turns out that it is like a high school dance after all…

So there you go. Part informative blog, and mostly an indulgence in my love of analogy.

Here are the "couples" who'll be competing together in Lake Placid. Watch us live on Oct. 12 HERE...

Women
Elana Meyers/Aja Evans
Jazmine Fenlator/Lolo Jones
Jamie Greubel/Katie Eberling
Bree Schaaf/Lauryn Williams
Berit Tomten/Tracey Stewart
Nicole Vogt/Sineaid Corley
Brittany Reinbolt/Cherrelle Garrett

Men
Steve Holcomb/Steve Langton 
Nick Cunningham/Dallas Robinson
Cory Butner/Chuck Berkeley
Codie Bascue/Justin Olsen
Jake Peterson/Jajonelle de Jarnette
Jay Noller/Nate Weber
Colin Coughlin/Sam Michener