How one small business helped Team USA win six Olympic medals in Sochi

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That sled they’re in? Hans deBot and his company played a big role in making it go faster. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

American athletes medaled in all five bobsled and skeleton events last week in Sochi. And while Hans deBot doesn’t have any hardware to show for it, he knows he and his small business played a significant role in securing those victories for the United States — and he couldn’t be more proud.

“As a business owner, it’s the most rewarding experience,” deBot, the owner of deBotech Inc. in Mooresville, N.C., said in an interview. “Seeing these athletes achieve their dreams and knowing we had a part in it, you can’t beat that.”

More than 5,000 miles away from the action, deBot and his 20 employees watched over the past few days (and often well into the nights) as several of the sleds they equipped with state-of-the-art carbon fiber technology barreled down the ice tracks and into the history books during the Winter Olympics, bringing home a record number of “sliding” sport medals for Team USA.

A mechanical engineer by trade, deBot started the company 16 years ago with his wife, Jamie, who handles the financial side of the business. The company spends most of its time manufacturing lightweight carbon-fiber parts for NASCAR drivers, military aircraft and commercial jets.

Not long after its launch, though, deBot got a call from Bruce Roselli, a bobsled driver who had heard about the company’s technology and asked deBot to help him build a faster four-man bobsled for the upcoming games in Salt Lake City.

Intrigued by the challenge and lured by the marketing potential of linking his company to the Olympics, deBot started studying the rules and specifications of the sport and soon set to work. His company finished the sled just in time to send it to Roselli for the trials in Utah, where it caught the attention of the teams building both the two-man bobsleds and the smaller skeleton pods.

Suddenly, deBot and his wife found themselves diving headfirst (or skeleton-style, if you will) into the world of sliding sports, where an ounce of weight here or there can shave a 10th of a second off your time. And often, that’s all that separates medals from heartbreak.

“It’s been an exciting ride,” deBot said. “And it’s fitting, because we’re a U.S.-based small business, living the American dream, producing home-grown, Made-in-the-USA goods for our Olympians.”

Housed in a 20,000 square foot plant in a small town known to few outside NASCAR circles, deBotech has worked with USA Bobsled, Skeleton Federation and BMW North America over the past several years to design the outer body of the U.S. team’s men’s and women’s skeletons, women’s and men’s two-person bobsleds, and the four-man bobsleds.

On each, deBot’s team has been looking for ways to incorporate carbon fiber, a lightweight but strong material. By finding ways to weave in those composite materials, the company can redistribute weight on the sleds and lower their centers of gravity, making it easier for drivers to navigate their way down the track at speeds of upwards of 80 miles per hour.

Their efforts have paid off, starting with a gold medal in the four-man bobsled at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Driven by Steve Holcomb, the Americans edged out perennial power Germany by less than four-10ths of a second that year to win their first gold in bobsled since 1948.

But that was just one event, and just one medal.

While Team USA did not get back to the top of the podium this year, the bobsled and skeleton teams increased their overall medal haul to six in Sochi. Americans claimed the bronze in the four-man and two-man bobsled and men’s skeleton, silver in women’s skeleton, and both silver and bronze in women’s bobsledding, many of them rewriting history on their way down the track.

Holcombe and Steven Langton became the first U.S. bobsledders to win multiple medals since 1962. Elana Meyers, Lauryn Williams, Jamie Geubel and Aja Evans gave the country its first ever two-medal haul in women’s bobsledding, while Matthew Antoine and Noelle Pikus-Pace brought home the first two skeleton medals in more than a decade.

And all of them did it with equipment deBot had a hand in creating.

Moreover, despite the nine-hour time difference, which meant many of the events were broadcast in the middle of the night back in Mooresville, they raced with deBot watching in real time, eyes glued to his iPad, cheering them on from halfway around the world.

“I’ve been a wee-hour man lately,” deBot said laughing. “I’ve been watching it live at night, and then when it’s been on during the day, we’ve all gathered around, all the employees, to watch it together in the shop.”

“These are the times,” he added, “for all of us to take a break and enjoy the rewards of all the hard work we put into getting the job done.”

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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