SAO PAULO, Brazil — Edson Bindilatti had never seen snow when he decided to become an Olympian bobsledder.
A champion decathlete from Brazil’s arid northeast, he dreamed of competing in the Olympics. But when Boston-based bobsled enthusiast Eric Maleson attempted to recruit Bindilatti in 1999, the decathlete had never even heard of the winter sport.
Maleson assigned him one piece of homework: Watch the 1993 movie “Cool Runnings,” loosely based on the first Jamaican bobsled team, which formed for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Maleson hoped to recreate the story in Brazil, another tropical country, by establishing its first team in the cold-weather Olympic event.
By the time the credits rolled, Bindilatti was in. Maleson took him to Team USA’s Olympic training facility in Lake Placid, N.Y., where Bindilatti was promptly crammed inside a sled.
“I came to see the sport, so I thought I would just observe, but no,” Bindilatti said. “We got to Lake Placid, one of the hardest paths in the world, and the coach said, ‘Put your head down.’ ”
His first run — at 90 mph — was the scariest thing Bindilatti had ever experienced. When he reached the end, adrenaline coursed through his body. “Let’s do it again,” he said.
In the 19 years since, Bindilatti, now 38 and the Brazilian team’s captain, has become his country’s bobsled evangelist. The Nordic sport, whereby teams of two or four athletes sled down iced tracks, is uncommon in the tropics. In Brazil, where soccer reigns supreme, convincing Brazilians to spend time and money on bobsledding has been difficult. The sport is expensive, with sleds costing upward of $50,000. All of the team members hold part-time jobs as personal trainers or coaches.
Known as The Frozen Bananas, Brazil’s squad trained mostly on dry ground, a concrete track they built in Sao Paulo. When the team finished second to last in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, they realized they needed help. A partnership with Team USA was brokered, which has provided the athletes daily exposure to the sport’s vital ingredient: Ice.
As part of an Olympic tradition in which experienced countries help underdogs gain a foothold in their sport, the partnership with Team USA has taken Bindilatti back to Lake Placid, where his career began. The Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex, a legacy of the 1980 Olympics, has one of the oldest bobsled tracks in the world. On the mile-long path, the Brazilians perfect their turns side-by-side with the Americans, sharing tips and feedback.
“Lake Placid is our second home,” said Bindilatti, who spent the last four months training there.
Joining up with Team USA also gave the Brazilian athletes access to top-of-the line equipment, blades, mechanics and even coaches in the months leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.
“I keep telling the U.S. coaches that I have the best gig at the Olympics,” said Shauna Rohbock, a women’s bobsled silver medalist in the 2006 Winter Olympics who splits her time coaching the American and Brazilian teams. “[The Brazilians] are super easy to work with and never complain. It’s really an honor to be here, and they get that.”
After qualifying, the team has its first four-man race Saturday, where the members hope their newfound skills help them gain sponsorships.
“We are no longer the ugly ducklings,” Bindilatti said. “We want to introduce bobsled to Brazil and show the world that a winter sport can be practiced in a tropical country.”
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