At 7:30 a.m., Curt Tomasevicz arrived at the Olympic Training Center cafeteria in Colorado Springs, seeking fuel for another workout.
He grabbed a tray, packed it with an omelet (or eggs). Bacon (or ham). A bagel (or muffin). Fruit. OJ. Chocolate milk. He sat in the same chair and listened to “SportsCenter” as he examined the new USA Today crossword puzzle.
Tomasevicz is a three-time Olympian in four-man bobsled, a 2010 gold medalist, the first Nebraskan to medal in the Winter Games.
He squats 260 kilos (575 pounds). He covers 30 meters (33 yards) in 3.65 seconds. He helps push a 460-pound sled down an icy track, knowing one slip, one-tenth of a second can be the difference between winning and losing.
But what sets apart the 33-year-old former Husker football walk-on from other Olympians is his commitment. Even by world-class athletic standards, Tomasevicz is a man of extraordinary discipline.
Training partner Jimmy Moody, an Olympic hopeful in fencing, said the temptation to hit “snooze” was occasionally too much — he skipped the cafeteria and grabbed coffee instead.
“Without fail, Curt was like, 'Nope, I gotta follow the same routine.' ... He's one of the most focused athletes I've ever seen there.”
And it starts with a mental workout. Across. Down.
On his best mornings, Tomasevicz, who owns a master's degree in electrical engineering, completed the crossword before training. Most of the time, he settled for 85 percent. Sometimes he got close enough that he took the paper with him, opening it again after his workout.
Day after day, week after week, all in preparation for a five-letter Russian city that will host the 2014 Olympics, likely Tomasevicz's last.
* * *
That's where Tomasevicz won gold in 2010. He and his three teammates on the “Night Train,” including driver Steve Holcomb, crossed the finish line and knew immediately their dream had come true. Tomasevicz got out of the sled and threw up his arm.
“I'm almost certain he's the most famous person in Shelby, Neb.,” NBC's Bob Costas told millions of viewers during the medal ceremony.
In the ensuing months, Tomasevicz covered so much ground — pulled his gold medal out of his pocket so many times — it felt like a blur. He delivered speeches at preschools and rest homes, corporate luncheons and farm shows.
Some things he won't forget:
» Presenting the Top 10 list on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Backstage he met Tom Hanks.
» Taking a 90-minute ride in an F-16 jet — “I threw up three times in that hour and a half.”
» Tossing the ceremonial first pitch before a game at Wrigley Field. As Tomasevicz, a lifelong Cubs fan, walked off the mound, the organist played “There is No Place Like Nebraska.”
He made two trips to the White House. He got invited to work on a NASCAR pit crew. But the best moment came in May 2010 in Kansas City.
“Playing on stage with Pearl Jam was probably the ultimate,” Tomasevicz said. “If there could've been anything to replicate that moment, I don't know what it is. Maybe landing on the moon, I'm not sure.”
Before the 2010 Games, Tomasevicz had done an interview with a music publication and shared his affection for Pearl Jam.
After the Olympics, he received an autographed poster and a letter of congratulations from the band. If you're ever in the area, they said, we'd love to have you as a guest.
“They could've been playing in Brazil and I would've said, 'Yeah, I'm in the area.' ”
He hooked up with the band in Kansas City. We heard you play a little bass guitar, they said.
Do you want to do the mike check?
That was his tryout. He passed.
Do you want to play a song during the show?
“After I thought about putting on a new pair of pants, I agreed.”
Eddie Vedder introduced Tomasevicz during the encore and the Sprint Center chanted, “USA! USA!” The bobsledder put his medal around the musician's neck. Vedder saluted the crowd and said, “Let's give this man a bass guitar, please.”
They played “Yellow Ledbetter.” They shared a beer on stage. Tomasevicz stayed for the concert finale, the band's rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” He exited with Vedder's arm around his back.
“I think I held my own.”
* * *
When an athlete exits the Olympic stage, the letdown begins. The performance is over and — win or lose — there won't be anything like it for four years.
“Everything you're working for is that one moment and then all of a sudden it's gone,” Tomasevicz said. “There's always a huge empty feeling. You're just missing something.”
Tomasevicz's post-Olympic schedule eased that sense of depression. In the summer of 2010, he jumped back into the grind, starting another cycle.
He returned to his cafeteria and his crossword. He met a new group of Olympic hopefuls, like the fencer Jimmy Moody.
After daily breakfast — Tomasevicz woke up an hour before his training team — they moved to the track for a series of sprints and agility drills. After lunch, they moved to the weight room for squats, dead lifts, power cleans.
As one of three push athletes, Tomasevicz's primary work on the bobsled track takes place in the first five seconds of a race — before jumping into the sled. It's about all explosiveness.
“There's no restart,” Moody says. “They treat every rep of every set and every sprint of every group like it is the most important one.”
Moody watched “heart-wrenching, gut-busting, high-intensity threshold sprints” in which Tomasevicz cranked the treadmill at a 45 degree angle and raised the speed. Jack the heart rate through the roof, then let it come all the way down. Then go again.
In another drill, Tomasevicz, from a standing position, jumped over a 42-inch hurdle, then another, then another, then another, then leaped onto a 54-inch box. (Yes, he can dunk.)
After some workouts, Moody said, “I wanted to throw up. And I'm 100 less pounds.” The thing he gained most from Tomasevicz, though, was the mental focus. The attention to detail.
“He was such a presence in the room,” Moody said. “Just by being around him, you wanted to be better. It would just go without saying. You were like, 'I wanna be like Curt.' ”
The adrenaline rush of flying down the track at 80 mph — the challenge of pushing your body to extreme limits — motivated Tomasevicz to keep training at 30 years old, then 31, then 32. USA-1 captured its second world championship in 2012.
He's stronger than ever, but the routine is harder. Preparation takes longer. The pain lasts longer. It's like that Toby Keith lyric, Tomasevicz said.
“I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was.”
His eyes occasionally dart off track. Sometimes he sees friends back home in Nebraska and envies their stability.
They have a place to call home. They have wives, kids, a 401(k). They can eat brownies and drink beer without worrying about the next workout.
Stability will eventually come, he hopes. But right now, the future is uncertain. Tomasevicz sold his four-plex in Colorado Springs last summer — he lived in one of the apartments. He moved his stuff into a storage unit.
“When I get home in March or April, I'll have to figure out where I'm going.”
Maybe he'll coach or work for the U.S. Olympic committee. Maybe he'll go back to school, get his Ph.D. in engineering and be a professor — after 10 years of activity, he figures it might be hard to sit at a cubicle all day. Maybe he'll find another adventure.
First he wants to finish this one.
* * *
He sent out the email last fall.
Since the Olympics were halfway around the world, Tomasevicz invited friends and family to Park City, Utah, for a World Cup race in December. Last chance to see the Night Train before it headed overseas.
He anticipated 10 to 20 people, similar to his cheering section in Canada four years ago. Instead, his fans in Shelby chartered a bus. Others flew. When USA-1 won the race, about 100 Nebraskans were cheering.
The reception won't be quite as warm in Sochi, where the Americans wear the target of defending Olympic champions. But Holcomb is the pilot again. Tomasevicz's two other teammates have Olympic experience. They know what it takes.
Four years after Tom Hanks shook his hand and Eddie Vedder handed him a beer and the Wrigley Field crowd cheered him, Tomasevicz has a chance to be famous again. To punctuate all of the training sessions. To complete the puzzle with a four-letter word for an Olympic prize.