Feb 19,2014

An Olympic Interview: Jonathan Edwards, US Luger

Jonathan Edwards was born and raised just south of Boston, Massachusetts. He was a high school All-American in lacrosse and went on to compete in the Olympics for the US in the sport of luge. Shortly before the Vancouver Olympics, a brief stint in bobsled took him to third place at the Canadian National Championships. After his Olympic career, Jonathan ran a strength and conditioning company where he trained athletes for the 2006 Olympics in addition to football and hockey players. He now owns a furniture company and coaches lacrosse goalies. You can find him on Twitter @olympicjonathan.

While that’s all very impressive, I’ll forever think of Jonathan as the huge-hearted big brother type who, while in Nagano, chased down Tara Lipinski in order to get me an autograph. He’s a dedicated athlete, a dynamic speaker, and the kind of person you want to learn from. Seeing as we’re in the middle of the Sochi games, I figured now was a good time to introduce him to my readers. Enjoy!

Before we talk Olympics, let’s discuss football. I know you’re a big NFL fan. What about the sport most interests you?

From my days working as a strength and conditioning coach and my time in the sport of bobsled, I look at football as the premier example of all-around athleticism. (Except for kickers, of course!) I definitely worry about concussions and quality of life for guys after they play, but man is it fun to watch them out on the field! I mean to see a guy like Marshawn Lynch bust through the line gets me super jacked up. Who – other than 49er fans – wouldn’t enjoy that?!?

Do you root for a particular team?

The short answer to that question is the Patriots. I’ve followed them since 1986. Nowadays, though, it seems like there are so many intriguing story lines and players that I feel bad rooting for just one team. Come to think of it, the fact that I’m aware of all of them is probably due to the insane growth of fantasy football. (Love your site, by the way!) It totally confuses my son when I watch the games on Sunday. He’s always asking, “Dad which team do you want to win?”  And I can’t give him a straight answer. Most of the time he just chooses a team and if they win then he rubs it in for the rest of the day. Ah, the joys of fatherhood and football fandom.

Last week Johnny Quinn – who was a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills before becoming an Olympic bobsledder – made headlines in Sochi. Do you see a lot of former football players cross over into bobsledding and/or luging? If so, how come?

Luge not so much, but bobsled definitely. I met Herschel Walker back in 1991. He was the first pro-footballer to transition to bobsled and actually did quite well at the Olympics. He opened the door and was a great teammate. Willie Gault was a dick, but I digress. Football athletes are so used to leg drive and explosive power that pushing a bobsled can be a natural fit. For example, my friend Jesse Lumsden was an Olympic bobsledder and also a Canadian College football star. He actually played some preseason games for the Redskins. Anyway, after a few shoulder injuries in the CFL he transitioned to bobsled and became one of the top push athletes in the world. So to answer your question, yeah, there’s definitely cross-over. Plus, bobsledders are rarely concussed… so that’s a bonus.

How in the world does one become an Olympic luger? Why luge?

You know, I think I was in the right place at the right time. That and I was athletic enough to make it happen. When I was ten, I got to try it on wheels at the oldest YMCA in North America. I went back at age 15 and was invited to try it on the ice. At the time, I was a three sport athlete in high school and luge provided me a shot to go the Olympics. I got really into the speed and the analytics of it all. I decided to give up Division 1 lacrosse interest and, instead, became an alternate for the 1992 Olympic team. After that, I competed in the ‘94 Olympic games and just missed a medal, finishing fourth.

What the heck is the difference between luge, skeleton, and bobsledding? Do most athletes train in all three events and then just find which one suits them best?

Surprisingly, luge is the most complicated and the most dangerous. It’s also the fastest since you’re lying on your back and going down the track feet first. Skeleton is head first and the steels are, for the most part, round so there’s not a lot of control, which makes it the slowest of the three. Bobsled is the most physically demanding because the start is so explosive and the sled is heavy. Because of that it’s not as fast, but the crashes are often the most spectacular. I crashed a sled in Whistler doing 84 miles per hour and am thankful I spent money on a really good helmet.

You were a part of the US Olympic luging team in Lillehammer. Can you talk about your Olympic experience?

It feels like it was yesterday. Really cool. Really stressful. I lost 29 pounds in two and a half weeks after my event. No one really teaches you what’s going to happen after the race you’ve been thinking about for six years is finally over. But the experience itself was incredible. We had a really rough year, but managed to be the highest American finish ever. Yeah, I missed making the medal stand by one place, but I got this very cool diploma-thing that I still have in my office. The memories will absolutely last a lifetime.

On the real, how much DNA is shared in the Olympic village? Is it a total Bacchanal?

I think I totally went to the wrong Olympics. In Lillehammer the “village” where the athletes stayed was really spread out. Think low income housing – NOT a hotel. All of this talk about Tinder and the constant hook-ups? I seem to have missed all that. I know the summer games is supposedly “better” than the winter, but I also think that the media blows it waaaay out of proportion. A lot of athletes are married. Some even have kids! It is definitely a fun party, but not as crazy as the media leads viewers to believe. They make it seem like we’re all naked after our events are over. That’s definitely not true. Or at least it wasn’t for me. But like I said, maybe I was at the wrong Olympics.

What are your thoughts on Sochi? What should we expect from team USA in the bobsled competitions? Have you been surprised by anything or anyone in particular?

US Bobsled just had a great medal finish in the two-man. They should do awesome in the four-man too. The beginning of this season showed that the Americans can really win races. That said, I know the coach of the Russian team and I think they are going to be really hard to beat in the four-man.

Your readers might like the documentary “Pulling John.” It’s the story about the underground world of arm-wrestling. The Russian breakman is featured in that video and he would make some NFL players pretty jealous by how strong he is. And, he’s a raw vegetarian. The guy is a freak. I saw him curl a bobsled once. Reverse grip, two hundred pounds!

As far as surprises? The whole thing. I don’t think most people realize that this is like having the winter Olympics in San Diego. It’s just bizarre.

John working the sliding venue for the Olympic Broadcasting Service at the Vancouver Winter Games.

How has your experience as an Olympian shaped and affected your life post-luge?

When I competed, the people around me made it seem as though my life was going to go downhill after the Olympics. They made me feel like nothing would be better than that experience. It took me ten years to figure out that they were wrong and that wasn’t the case. Of course, it’s such a high point, but winning at the rest of my life is much more important. The Olympics are just a stepping stone and I always want to share that idea with others. I actually counsel a lot of athletes on that exact topic. I want them to know that their lives don’t stop after the games.

Do you miss the sled? Do you still get out there and whip around the track?

Truthfully, I miss bobsled more than luge. Luge is hard! And very tough on the body. I’ve had the equivalent of fifty-plus car wrecks with whiplash, etc. Bobsled, on the other hand, is all the fun with none of the damage. Unfortunately, it’s not a very hobby-friendly sport and really expensive so I’ve had to hang up my spikes.

What are you up to now?

My wife and I own a furniture and interior design company in Calgary, Alberta Canada called CushyLife, which takes up most of our days. Together we also have two great kids – ages eight and six.

Additionally, I oversee a number of online ventures. Coaching kids is, undoubtedly, my greatest passion. As a result, I started a blog called LacrosseGoalieTips.com, which is currently read in thirty-one countries and has thousands of subscribers. Due to the site’s success, I recently created TheBusinessCalledYou.com, which is a blog for entrepreneurs looking to develop their online business savvy.

What advice would you give to young athletes chasing their dreams?

Most people are really good at telling you what you can’t do, or what they think you can’t do. Your job as an aspiring athlete is to go out and find all of the examples of people who had it worse off than you, but who made it. I love the sport of football for that exact reason. There are a great number of stories about kids coming from nothing and turning into something. If you believe that you can become one of those somethings then you’ll make it happen.