Capt. Chris Fogt would have rather been deployed to Kuwait with most of his battalion, but, stationed in the U.S. for the near future, decided to revive his other career.
Fogt, who pushed sleds at the last two Olympics, earning a bronze medal in Sochi, recently competed for the first time in nearly three years. His goal is to make it to one more Winter Games in PyeongChang, but, really, it was his second option.
Fogt is part of a 450-soldier battalion, about 350 of which are now in Kuwait.
Fogt was chosen several months ago to be the rear detachment manager, meaning he would not ship overseas with the rest of his battalion. He would stay in the U.S., where he has a wife and two young children.
“I would have liked to,” go to Kuwait, he said, “but things just didn’t line up for me.”
So Fogt decided to re-enter a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug-testing pool last year, making him eligible for top-level competition next season, including the Olympics.
Fogt already has his Olympic medal. He has a 2-year-old boy and a 4-month-old daughter. So why spread one’s time even thinner with a comeback and no guarantee to make the Olympic team?
“Winning a bronze medal is awesome, but it’s still not gold,” said Fogt, a former Utah Valley University sprinter recruited to bobsled in 2007. “Having another shot at that is definitely something that keeps me going. I’ve had some success, but I want to have the ultimate success, which is being Olympic champion.”
Fogt’s four-man bobsled bronze medal in Sochi felt like a triumph.
Standing on that podium, he remembered his first Olympics in 2010, when friends stationed in Afghanistan, South Korea and Iraq told him they couldn’t wait to watch his race.
Fogt’s four-man crew at the Vancouver Games, piloted by fellow soldier John Napier, crashed in the second of four runs, ending Fogt’s Olympics prematurely. All seven of Fogt’s siblings were in Whistler, B.C., to watch. An American sled did win gold that weekend, but it was the other four-man team piloted Steven Holcomb ending a 62-year U.S. gold drought in the event.
“The next day, I got a couple of emails [from friends], being like, hey man, sorry, but basically it was kind of quiet, I don’t hear from a lot of people,” Fogt said. “I felt like, crap, here’s my friend, he bobsleds, he’s awesome. Nevermind, he’s in last place. He sucks.”
After the Vancouver Games, Fogt spent a year deployed in Baghdad, training Iraqi intelligence agencies how to use technology to locate and track terrorists. Fogt, whose father served in the Reserves from 1970-2003, had joined the U.S. Army in 2005.
Fogt returned to the U.S. and to bobsled competition in fall 2011. By the 2013-14 Olympic season, he had earned a place in the top U.S. four-man sled piloted by Holcomb.
They were the top crew on the World Cup circuit that winter, but nevertheless underdogs at the Olympics due to the overwhelming home-track advantage held by Russian Aleksandr Zubkov‘s crew. Experience on a track is crucial in bobsled, and Zubkov had up to 10 times as many practice runs at the Sochi venue than Holcomb.
Holcomb’s crew finished third in the four-run Olympic race, .39 behind Zubkov and .30 behind the silver medalists from Latvia.
The medal brought Fogt to tears in post-race interviews on the final day of the Winter Games. Wife Rachel, five months pregnant, wasn’t in Sochi due to travel concerns, but called while Fogt spoke with media to share in the joy. She had watched the race live starting at 2:30 a.m. back in Utah.
Fogt knew then that he would return to the Army after Sochi. He planned to spend two years on active duty and, if it was possible, return to bobsled. Fogt hoped to be shipped overseas, but it never happened, which re-opened the bobsled door. He is currently in Fort Hood, Texas.
Fogt will spend most of his time in Colorado, Utah and, he hopes, Europe with the U.S. bobsled team later this year. None of the current national-team push athletes have Olympic experience, though fellow Sochi medalist Steven Langton is joining Fogt in a comeback.
Still, the newcomers have shown promise. Holcomb ranks in the top three of World Cup two- and four-man standings with his new crew. Displacing one of them will be a challenge, but the U.S. could qualify as man as three sleds for PyeongChang, creating nine Olympic spots for push athletes.
Fogt has spoken with his former driver about his return.
“[Holcomb] has been very honest, his team’s doing pretty good right now,” Fogt said, “but if I come out and get back to where I was [in 2014], then hopefully I’ll have a shot to get back on his sled.”
Fogt has twice met former U.S. President Barack Obama as part of Team USA White House visits after the Olympics. He has the recordings of both brief interactions on his phone.
“He’s commander-in-chief, so ultimately in my chain of command, about 20 steps up, he’s actually my boss,” Fogt joked. “It actually meant a lot to hear him say, thanks for your service, thanks for what you’re doing.”
Obama did more than that, giving Fogt and other military personnel on Team USA special coins. Fogt sometimes carries his with him, and it does hold power. Via the longtime military tradition of “challenge coins,” Fogt can produce the coin in a soldier group setting, where soldiers must buy drinks for the person with the highest-ranking coin.
“You can’t really trump the President of the United States coin,” Fogt joked.
Fogt’s patriotism also factors into his return to bobsled. He remembers Sochi, standing on that podium and watching the American flag being raised. But the Russian flag was higher, and the Russian anthem played.
Fogt is aware of the reports of Russian cheating leading up to and during the Sochi Olympics, allegations that specifically implicate Zubkov.
“I feel like now there will be a lot more of the scrutiny leading up to these Olympics,” Fogt said. “I think they’ll be much more careful with the samples and doing the testing now. Hopefully, a fair race.”
Fogt, now 33 years old, expects this to be his last Olympic run. He plans to return full-time to the Army next year. He said it was weird to train with his battalion every morning from 6:30-7:30, knowing they would be leaving for Kuwait. And he wouldn’t.
“You don’t ever want to be in harm’s way, per se, but you want to be there with the soldiers that you’ve been training with,” Fogt said. “There’s no other feeling like that, that you’ll get in a unit. You’ll rarely face adversity like you do in a hostile war zone.”
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