Chris Kinney still hates cold weather, but the 2011 Georgetown graduate and Georgia native has learned to tolerate, if not enjoy, lifting weights during his transition from all-American hurdler to push athlete on the United States’ Olympic bobsled team. Kinney will compete with Sam Michener, Nick Cunningham and Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, who played football at the University of Virginia at Wise, in one of Team USA’s three four-man bobsleds at the PyeongChang Games.
“In college, it was like pulling teeth to get me to lift,” said Kinney, 29, a three-time Big East track and field champion who still holds the Hoyas’ record in the 60-meter and 110-meter hurdles. “My first year doing bobsled, my lifting was awful. Now I’ve kind of embraced it.”
Kinney described his Olympic journey while sporting an “Iron Hoyas” T-shirt before a workout earlier this month at John Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center, which opened five years after Kinney was a student on the Hilltop. Kinney, who posed for a photo with Georgetown men’s basketball coach and two-time Olympian Patrick Ewing during his brief campus visit, attended a press event in Baltimore and a fundraiser in D.C. the following day before heading to Calgary for a week of fine-tuning ahead of next month’s Games.
One year after graduating from Georgetown with a degree in Japanese, Kinney accepted a job with a sporting goods and clothing company in Tsukuba, Japan. Kinney had traveled to Japan as a child; his grandmother is Japanese and he is fluent in the language. Over the next three-plus years, Kinney trained with a coach from the Japanese national team and competed in track meets throughout Japan and the United States with an eye toward qualifying for the Summer Olympics.
In August 2014, Kinney was home in Georgia preparing for the Florida Relays when he took a road trip with his grandfather to a USA Bobsled and Skeleton combine in Greenville, S.C. “I was researching it at work and thought it would be kind of fun,” said Kinney, whose interest in the sport was piqued earlier that year by a conversation with American hurdler Lolo Jones at a track meet in Japan. Jones competed for the United States’ women’s bobsled team at the 2014 Sochi Games but did not make the team for the PyeongChang Olympics.
Among the 18 men who participated in the bobsled portion of the combine in Greenville, Kinney finished with the second-highest score behind Alex Harrison, a former decathlete at Western Washington University. Kinney’s strong showing earned him an invitation to the rookie push championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., where things didn’t come as easily. He finished 10th out of 20 competitors.
“I was fast, but I wasn’t strong enough to push a bobsled,” Kinney said.
Still, Kinney decided to stick with bobsledding. He had become frustrated with his lack of improvement as a hurdler in Japan, and he missed his grandfather — his father figure and best friend. “My grandfather’s always been supportive,” Kinney said. “In track, he would call me after every race, just to see how I did, and he attended every one of my meets in high school.” In 2016, Kinney moved back to the United States, began training at the East Tennessee State University Olympic training site while pursuing his MBA at the school, and qualified for the national team.
“The training in Japan was a bit difficult,” Kinney said. “I had a great coach, but something wasn’t clicking. I kind of plateaued a bit. I thought I could transition well to bobsled and come back and be closer to my grandparents. It all fell into place.”
It was a process, though. At Georgetown, Kinney relied on his top-level speed to overcome mediocre starts and outrun competitors from the middle portion of his races to the finish line. In bobsled, the five seconds Kinney and his teammates spend pushing the sled 50 meters before jumping inside and hunkering down at the top of the run are critical.
“It’s all about acceleration,” Kinney said. “That was my weakest point when I was running in college. Now it’s all in the start.”
Kinney, who won gold in the two-man with Cunningham at the North American Cup in November, has taken the last two semesters off from his studies to focus on bobsledding and expects to finish his MBA program in 2019. In his increasingly limited free time, Kinney enjoys doing origami, which his mother taught him.
“It’s kind of a good stress reliever,” Kinney said with a laugh. “Everyone in Japan gets a kick out of it. They’re like, ‘Who’s this big black guy that can do origami?’ ”
Kinney hasn’t ruled out a return to track and field after the Winter Olympics, but as he prepared for a workout on the campus where he used to dread lifting weights, he was focused on returning from South Korea as a bobsledding champion.
“If all of us do our part and do what we need to do,” Kinney said, “hopefully we’ll be in contention for a medal.”
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