Nick Cunningham and Hakeem Abdul-Saboor make a run during the men's 2-man bobsled event at the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 19, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
Nick Cunningham has never been far from some sort of track.
The three-time Olympic bobsledder has made a career of vaulting his sled down an icy track at high speeds, but his first love of racing came with his own two feet.
The former Boise State track and field athlete attributes much of his Olympic success to what he learned while running the 100- and 200-meter for the Broncos.
“Being able to adapt, that’s one of the biggest things about bobsled,” Cunningham said. “The training is fairly similar; I was a track athlete and a football player. The training is similar to that. That part was natural, but it’s adapting to a different situation.”
Cunningham, a California native who grew up surfing on the coast, had to adapt to his new state of Idaho before he could make his way Lake Placid, the home of the U.S. bobsled team in the snowy Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.
“I love Boise, Idaho,” he said. “I love the camaraderie of the city and its backing behind the university. I love the pride that Boise had. I'm a very prideful person, and I love school spirit. That’s what drew me in.”
Cunningham, 34, who was a junior college football player before attending Boise State from 2005-08, helped the Broncos to a 2006 indoor and outdoor Western Athletic Conference title. He was an NCAA West Region qualifier in the 200-meter.
He credits college athletics for giving him the skills necessary to compete on the international stage.
“When you are a collegiate athlete, it’s a full-time job,” he said. “In high school you do it as it fits in your schedule. … No one is going to hold your hand and walk you through. I think being in college I knew that the only person that really dictated my success was me.”
His bobsled career started from a family joke. After the occasional poor track performance, his parents, Tim and Wendy, used to joke he could always try bobsled when his running career was over.
"That became my graduation gift to myself – I'm going to fly out to New York to try out for the bobsled team,” Cunningham said. “I figured worst case scenario I got a great bar story to tell my friends down the road, and 18 months after that I went to the 2010 Olympics.”
After competing as a brakeman at those Vancouver Games, Cunningham switched to the driver’s seat for the Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. Now an assistant track and field coach at California State University, Monterey Bay, head track and field coach at Carmel High School and a development coach for USA Bobsled & Skeleton, Cunningham said he’s not sure about his plans for a fourth Olympic Winter Games.
Having not competed since February 2018, Cunningham hopped back in a sled earlier this month and took home five silver medals at the North American Cup in Park City, Utah. In the meantime, when he’s not the one racing on the track, he’s guiding others to the finish line.
“I absolutely love coaching,” he said. “I know that’s kind of the direction I will go once my athletic career is over. I just know what coaches have done for me in my career and their impact on my success.”