Look closely during the Olympics and you might see Ted Offit on TV: a middle-aged man with a Team USA jacket on his back and a cowbell in hand that he clangs wildly at the start of every bobsled race.
For Offit, of Glyndon, the Winter Games in Sochi are the climax of his seven years' work on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. While all eyes are on Lolo Jones, U.S. bobsled's poster girl, and Steve Holcomb, pilot of America's defending gold medal four-man bobsled team, it's Offit — a 57-year-old lawyer who came to the job with no savvy in the sport — whose acumen behind the scenes helped make it happen.
Legal counsel. Fund raiser. A steady touchstone who keeps board members on task during meetings. That will be Offit's legacy when he completes his eight-year term in 2015.
"I'll be sad to see him go," said Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of USBSF. "Even more important than Ted's expertise in law is his uncanny ability to cut right to the heart of an issue.
"So many times, in board meetings, we get knee-deep in the weeds and he has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter. It's easy to get distracted and taken down a rabbit hole, but Ted always brings us back."
When he joined the board in 2007, Offit was the only one without a past in either sport.
"That was a plus," he said. "I could take a fresh view of things without bias."
Now, he's the only one of the eight-member panel who is in Sochi, cheering on the athletes whose interests he represents.
"I think the U.S, is going to win a bunch of medals," he said before the Games began. "BMW, our headline sponsor, built our new two-man sled, and the skeleton sled was built by a rocket scientist from Cincinnati."
Offit has come far for someone whose only prior knowledge of bobsled was "what I'd seen on Wide World of Sports and the  Disney movie 'Cool Runnings.'"
Olympic keepsakes pepper the Baltimore County home he shares with his wife and three sons. There's a 2006 Olympic jacket in his closet, a framed montage of ticket stubs from the 2010 Games he attended and a Sports Illustrated cover of the U.S. gold medal-winning men's bobsled team from that year, autographed by all four athletes.
"I will miss this," Offit said in his office in Fulton before leaving for Russia. "There's not a lot to my own athletic career: two years of varsity football at Pikesville High, where I also tried out for baseball but couldn't hit a curve. Once, in junior high, I wrestled and lost to Moose Haas," who went on to pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers.
"Now I've experienced things I never thought I would. I've been up close and personal with Lolo Jones and Steve Holcomb and I've been to two Olympics."
He has also ridden a bobsled, careening down the sliding track in a four-man sled at the Utah Olympic Park. The ride was an initiation, of sorts, to his selection as a board member in 2007. Though an avid skiier, Offit was awed by the fury of it all.
"I had no idea how incredibly fast and violent it would be," he said. "My head was like a bell ringing from side to side all the way down. There were 16 turns but I lost count after the third one because they came so fast, boom-boom-boom, one right after the other.
"You have no sense of where you are on the track. I got nauseous after 30 seconds but there was no time to throw up because at 50 seconds, you're finished."
An attorney specializing in business transactions, Offit is managing principal of a firm he co-founded in 1987. He joined the USBSF on a recommendation from a former client and bobsled enthusiast who'd seen the turmoil raging therein, from an athlete suspended for a failed drug test to a coach fired for reports of sexual harrassment.
Following the 2006 Olympics, the entire board, comprised mostly of bobsled and skeleton lifers, was dismissed and replaced largely with impartial members like Offit. The makeover worked. Sponsorship of the USBSF is up: a recent one-night fund-raiser in Georgetown, organized by Offit and board colleague Don Schaaf, an advertising executive from Annapolis, drummed up a record $275,000.
Meanwhile the cash-strapped Jamaican bobsled team, profiting from the autobiographical movie "Cool Runnings," raised $120,000 in online donations, in one day — an achievement not lost on Offit.
"We should learn how to do crowd-funding like the Jamaicans," he said, tongue-in-cheek. "All we need is Disney behind us."
Offit has a knack for adapting to the situation at hand, said Schaaf.
"Ted flows freely between business and sport and is very approachable by the athletes. He knows all of their names and something about them," Schaaf said. "When we go to board meetings attended by the athletes, they all flock to Ted."
John Rosen, USBSF board chair, called Offit "one of our absolutely most valuable members. He has brought a level of calm objectivity and discipline to our discussions. He's a passionate advocate for the sport, but his perspective is critical in terms of centering our board in its considerations."
"There are times when we might get a complaint from athletes who believe the [Olympic] selection process hasn't been fair," Rosen said. "Ted looks at the criteria objectively, and at the people involved, and separates fact from bias."
That Jones, a onetime track star, was chosen for the Olympic bobsled team rankled some athletes who felt she was picked more for celebrity than skill. But none has pressed the issue legally, said Offit, who himself is not involved in the selection process.
When he steps down next year, Offit has one wish.
"That we'll be remembered for coming into a sport that lacked leadership and returning stability to it. That, and winning," he said, ringing his cowbell for luck.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun