In 2012, Lolo Jones, at one point the fastest female hurdler in the world, started to inhale bacon cheeseburgers, wear skintight bodysuits and push a sled more than double her weight down an icy descent. That left Coby Rosemier-Gussio to wonder: "Who does bobsledding?"
The former Mount St. Mary's track and field star feels bad about it now. Not just because the thought amounted to a dismissal of the unlikely Jamaican sprinters-turned-bobsledders immortalized in the 1993 Disney film "Cool Runnings," but also because, in the span of a few weeks, Rosemier-Gussio himself had become a possible answer to that very question.
Last month at Gaithersburg High in Montgomery County, the 23-year-old Boonsboro native earned 558 of a possible 600 points at a Team USA bobsled and skeleton scouting combine, highest overall. A week later, he had an official invitation to September's national push championships in Lake Placid, N.Y. Now he is preparing for the next step in a possible Olympic future in a sport he has never even practiced.
"It's such an honor, obviously, but there's a lot of things that go into it," Rosemier-Gussio said. "If I'm going to do it, I'm going to put my whole heart into it and all my effort."
The idea to come to the combine was not his. TJ Burns, a former goalkeeper on the Mount St. Mary's men's soccer team who has worked as a Mountaineers strength and conditioning coach, would joke with Rosemier-Gussio when he was at the school: "Hey, when are you going to be in the back of a four-man [bobsled]?" The teasing had a personal touch: Burns served as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic bobsled team at the 2010 Winter Games.
He had seen the speed — Rosemier-Gussio won a state title in the 100-meter dash in high school and is Mount St. Mary's record holder in the indoor 200. When Burns saw that the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation was coming to Maryland in July, he messaged Rosemier-Gussio on Facebook. You should do this, he told him.
Rosemier-Gussio had not sprinted competitively since graduating in 2014, and after a stint with a CrossFit team in Delaware, he was bigger, more muscular. He'd never been interested in bobsledding, either. If he was going to do this, it would be for fun, to see what happened.
For the six weeks before the combine, he tailored his workouts to the combine's three tests: sprints, broad jump and shot toss. His bodybuilding regimen changed, appropriately enough, to Olympic lifts — the clean, the snatch, whatever it took to activate his fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Combine day came. Rosemier-Gussio arrived early in the morning at the Gaithersburg track facility. None of the two dozen or so participants there were talking much. When the coaches convened the participants at 10 a.m., there was a mix of track and field athletes, some from football, even a WWE wrestler.
"You never know what you're going to get," assistant coach Mike Kohn said.
They started with sprints. "OK, I still got it," Rosemier-Gussio was happy to find. He covered 15 meters in 2.07 seconds, 30 meters in 3.63 seconds and the full 45 meters in 5.07 seconds. His 30 fly time, in which participants get a running start, was 3 seconds. Each mark was the best or tied for the best of the day.
Next came the broad jump, a test of explosiveness from a standing position. He scored a 93 out of 100, and in the shot toss, a "granny-style" throw different from the spinning shot put, an 80.
Rosemier-Gussio had come to the combine hoping for the best and not caring if he was the worst. After the combine, after he finished No. 1, Kohn and former U.S. bobsled coach John Philbin told him they were impressed. Someone would call him soon.
"It's [among] very few sports, if the only sport, you can make having never done it in your lifetime," said Philbin, a Frostburg State All-America decathlete who said he took up bobsledding six months before competing in the 1984 Games.
It is a sport historically open to track stars such as Jones and football stars such as Herschel Walker and, Baltimore's Franchon Crews hoped, boxers, too. The reigning bronze medalist in the light-heavyweight world championship, Crews, 29, declined to specify how low she scored at Gaithersburg. Instead, she offered this assessment: "I did really bad. I'm going to keep it real: I did really bad."
Crews' mother fell ill during the lead-up to the combine, and "it felt like my world was crashing," she said. Her weight wasn't ideal, and her marks reflected that. It was "super fun," a "learning experience," Crews called it, but she was not invited to Lake Placid.
"I pushed the Cadillac a block up the street. If we played football, I would run most females over," she said. "I just need to be groomed and molded into a bobsled athlete."
That has long been the challenge for the sport's U.S. governing body. Before 2002, the Americans went 46 years without a medal. In the 1970s and '80s, as a divided Germany cleaned up at the podium with a roster of track and field transplants, the United States was an amateur act. During the 1984 Olympics, The New York Times noted that the country's top team was "composed of a state trooper, a health club manager, an Air Force fire fighter and a deputy sheriff."
Each of the four men on the 2002 bronze-medal-winning U.S. team competed in football or track (or both) in college. Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time medalist in the two-woman event, played softball at George Washington. The sport does not discriminate, Philbin explained, except against those who are not big and strong and fast. "The bottom line is," he said, "we're pushing a sled that's 400 or 500 pounds."
In Gaithersburg, the only competitor who came close to matching Rosemier-Gussio was a man named Rodriquez Russell. He was five points back, well above the qualifying line.
Kohn wishes he could offer more information, but he can't. The phone number Russell gave at the combine has three illegible numbers. A Facebook search turned up nothing. Before the Aug. 2 deadline, Kohn tried calling permutations of the rogue digits, for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, to no success and much frustration. As the world turned its focus to Rio de Janeiro's Summer Games, Kohn was trying to find this mystery man, wherever he was. Pyeongchang 2018 isn't so far away.
"I'll keep looking. You never know," Kohn said last month. He went on: "It might make a good story if I can find him. Down the road, you never know."