Steven Jacobo works on his sled before one of his Para World Cup races.
Jason Sturm is no stranger to making history.
Back in 2015, he was the first-ever World Cup champion in para-bobsled, claiming silver in the inaugural race in Igls, Austria, then nabbing gold in the St. Moritz, Switzerland, leg.
Nearly two years later, Sturm and his teammates will have the opportunity to make history in a different way. On September 5, the International Paralympic Committee provisionally approved para-bobsled for the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Games. With the decision comes the chance to represent Team USA as the first-ever Paralympians in bobsled.
“I woke up on Monday and legitimately could not help myself,” Sturm said. “Every five minutes, I was checking my email, checking Facebook, texting people. My biggest goal, ever since I heard about the sport and started working in the sport, was to get us into the Paralympics. That’s all I wanted to do.”
Now, Sturm’s dream is a reality, provided that the IPC’s conditions are met. John Rosen, chairman of IBSF’s Para-sport Committee, said the IPC placed two requirements on IBSF. First, it must host a minimum of six Para World Cup races along with a Para World Championship in each of the next two seasons. Second, there must be at least 12 nations from three or more regions participating in each of the next two seasons.
If these specifications are achieved, para-bobsled will become the seventh Paralympic winter sport.
“IBSF is committed to meeting these requirements,” Rosen said. “The racing schedule for the upcoming season is already defined consistent with these requirements, and the following year’s schedule will comply as well. And currently we have 16 nations committed to participate in this year’s races and we expect participation to grow rapidly in each year between now and 2022.”
While the para-bobsled team celebrates, there is still work to be done for IBSF. Para-skeleton was not approved for 2022, an absence that is not overlooked by Rosen and the athletes.
“Understandably, the IPC decision left me torn,” Rosen said. “I was thrilled beyond belief that our many years of work towards this goal has finally resulted in official recognition. But that joy was immediately dampened by the realization that we are only halfway there.”
IBSF will continue to work towards skeleton inclusion in future Paralympics, but the IPC decision is a huge step for bobsled.
Paralympic inclusion will make waves in the developing sport. First and foremost, Sturm said, it peaks recruiting interest, not only in the United States, but in other countries as well. The competition will skyrocket, and the sport will grow.
“We’ve had athlete interest from Germany, Russia, some of the other bigger sliding sport countries, but they’re not going to devote money to it unless they know there’s a positive outcome,” Sturm said. “Now there’s a possibility that we’re going to the Paralympics, so you’re going to see Germany, you’re going to see Russia, you’re going to see those other countries get into it.”
But more than that, it will provide a bigger goal and added motivation for the current athletes.
“We all knew that the IPC’s decision would make or break [our] future in the sport,” Team USA para-bobsledder Steven Jacobo said. “I’m very excited. Now I have something to work towards. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to make the Paralympics.”
Sturm echoes Jacobo’s sentiment. He sees himself four years down the road, competing in the Paralympics eight years after winning the first para-bobsled World Cup, adding another first to his growing list.
It’s a feeling he won’t be able to describe until he gets there.
“I don’t know if ‘euphoria’ would be the right word, but it would be pretty close,” he said. “If I can go to the Paralympics with a brand new or developing sport, whether I bring home a medal or not, if I compete at the highest level, I can pretty much hang my hat and say ‘I’ve done what I can do.’”
Kristen Gowdy, USABS Media and Marketing Assistant, firstname.lastname@example.org, (719) 722-0522