In a world obsessed with being No. 1, Schenectady native John Napier will settle for No. 2 — for now.
Napier, 23, will pilot the USA-2 two-man and four-man sleds at next month’s Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Since my earliest memories, I’ve always dreamed of this,” said Napier Sunday during a teleconference call from St. Moritz, Switzerland, where the U.S. team completed in a World Cup event. “Now, the dream has come true.”
The U.S. will be sending three sleds to Vancouver. Steve Holcomb will pilot USA-1 in both four-man and two-man, and Mike Kohn will drive the third sled.
Napier, a sergeant in the Vermont National Guard who gets funding and assistance from the U.S. Army World Class Program, is the son of former USBSF president Bill Napier, who died of kidney cancer in 2005. It was Bill Napier who first got his son interested in bobsledding, at the age of 8.
“Being in the Capital Region and being close to the venues at Lake Placid played a huge role,” said John Napier. “My father had such dedication; I’ve never seen anyone with such dedication or passion for a sport, and his dedication helped push me to further my career.
“When we moved to Lake Placid, I could see even more the true Olympic spirit and it gave me the drive to get to where I am today. Just being in that area, you draw from the environment around you.”
Napier began a serious training regimen last spring and put on 30 pounds, which helped improve his push times, and moved him from being in Holcomb’s shadow to making a name for himself.
His breakthrough came in November, when he won his first World Cup race in Lake Placid, and even more impressive was a third-place finish earlier this month in Germany.
“When I was making the second run in Lake Placid, I could see my goal 40 yards away, 30 yards away and when I got out of the sled, my cheeks hurt from smiling,” Napier said. “I was so glad to get my first medal at my home track, and all my family and all the people who have supported me along the way were there to see it. And I’m know my father was watching. It was a dream-come-true victory.”
One of the people waiting for Napier at the finish line that day was his mother, Betsy, who had stood in the same spot for so many years waiting for her late husband to finish races when he was a driver for the U.S. national team.
U.S. coach Brian Shimer always knew that the 6-foot-3 Napier had potential.
“At 14 and 15, he was growing fast, but muscular-wise and weight-wise, he was pretty light,” Shimer said. “But this year, he focused on the strength and speed side of it, and it’s been a breakthrough season.
As important as the gold medal at Lake Placid was to Napier, Shimer thinks his run in Germany was the highlight of his World Cup season.
“I’m not sure John was confident in his own ability because he had been looking up to the other guys for so many years,” Shimer said. “The victory at Lake Placid opened some eyes, but there was the thought that, was it a fluke because it was his home track? But when he medaled in Germany, he let the world know he was a force to be reckoned with. Until you win your first medal in Germany against the Germans, no one takes you seriously.”
Napier has two goals in Vancouver. The first is to meet Ballston Spa native Trevor Marsicano, who will be on the U.S. speedskating team.
“I got in touch with him and kind of introduced myself,” said Napier. “I’m looking forward to meeting him at the Games. Us Capital Region guys got to stick together.”
His second goal is to win a medal.
“It seems like a million pieces have come together to make one picture, and it’s a beautiful portrait,” he said. “But I’ve got to keep gaining weight and getting stronger because this is not the end of the road. Now, the pressure is on me to perform.”