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From bodybuilding to the Olympics – a bobsledder’s story

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker once converted to bobsled. So did Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios. And Edwin Moses, who won two Olympic 400m hurdles titles among a streak of 122 straight victories.

Now, there’s Hakeem Abdul-Saboor. He isn’t as accomplished as any of those names but has his own unique story to tell.

Abdul-Saboor is the first U.S. Olympic bobsledder since at least 1998 (perhaps ever) to convert from another physically demanding exercise – bodybuilding.

OK, not exactly bodybuilding.

“I call it bodybuilding, but I do physique,” said Abdul-Saboor, a 30-year-old born in New Jersey. “It’s not like I’m up in a Speedo in there. It’s what you try to aspire to look like at the beach, so I’m wearing board shorts [in physique competitions].”

Abdul-Saboor said he did five shows and won three titles (one is usually eligible for multiple physique titles at one show).

That was before he was introduced to bobsled in 2015 and made the U.S. Olympic bobsled team this season.

Abdul-Saboor’s athletic story began as a basketball, football and all-around track and field athlete at Powhatan High School in Virginia, about 30 miles west of Richmond.

He went on to play running back at Division II University of Virginia at Wise. Abdul-Saboor said he ran a 4.30-second 40-yard dash.

But his football career ended four games into his senior season in 2009. Abdul-Saboor said he tore an ACL one week too late to receive a medical redshirt for the season.

NBCOlympics.com: More on Team USA

“Hakeem is probably the best all-around athlete I have ever coached,” UVA-Wise coach Dewey Lusk once said.

Abdul-Saboor stuck around campus for a while doing what he loved – hitting the gym. One of his friends was a bodybuilder and suggested Abdul-Saboor enter a contest.

He submitted photos and made the cut. Abdul-Saboor flew to Boise, Idaho, for the 2012 Bodybuilding.com FIT USA Event. He had to pay for everything except entry fee.

“Flight, hotel, spray tan,” he said. “I think they picked 16 or 20 of us from the nation. I ended up winning the people’s choice award. So that was everybody over the nation voting for which contestant they liked, their physique the best. That was before the show. I ended up placing fourth in the total competition.”

Abdul-Saboor said he performed well enough in shows to be invited to bigger competitions.

“But I never had the means of doing a national show because of the funding,” he said. “The pros get sponsors and everything, so they make pretty good money if you become a pro. At one point, I did think I would like to pursue that, but I would need to have found a job to help me start that, or a sponsor.”

Abdul-Saboor found a job in Knoxville, Tenn., as a speed, agility and quickness coach and personal trainer for Performance Training, Inc.

That’s about 100 miles west of East Tennessee State University, where a number of U.S. bobsledders, including the late Steven Holcomb, have spent offseasons training.

Word spread to ETSU of this physical specimen in Knoxville.

“An undergraduate student on campus brought my attention to a video of a young man (Hakeem) performing a vertical jump and touching his head to the [10-foot] ceiling of a Knoxville-based fitness center he was personal training out of,” Dr. Brad DeWeese, a former U.S. Olympic Committee head of physiology and current ETSU associate professor, wrote in an email. “Having coached a large portion of Olympians in the sport, it was obvious that Hakeem had the power and physical build to be successful in bobsled.”

DeWeese tracked down Abdul-Saboor through Facebook and invited him to Johnson City for a dryland bobsled combine.

“Needless to say Hakeem had a perfect score in each event, even after becoming ill from nerves halfway through the test,” DeWeese wrote. “Since then, I have had the honor of coaching Hakeem to 3 national team designations and finally to an Olympic team. In short, you never know who is watching.”

Abdul-Saboor started as a push athlete on the minor-league North American Cup in fall 2015, but by January 2016 competed in three World Cups.

 

NBCOlympics.com: Everything to know about bobsled

 

This season, he was in veteran Nick Cunningham’s sled for the last seven races since Dec. 1. That included a pair of North American Cup wins and a fifth-place finish in a two-man World Cup in Austria, the best result for any U.S. sled outside of an American track this season.

No surprise he’s in Cunningham’s sled for both two- and four-man events in PyeongChang.

Abdul-Saboor thought his sports career was over when he tore the ACL eight years ago. Now, he plans to continue bobsledding beyond the Olympics and maybe even return to physique, though he would have to drop 20 bobsled pounds.

He does not consider physique a sport, even though it’s sweat-inducing.

“You get pretty nervous, and before you go on stage, you’re back there getting a pump,” he said. “We’re like working out backstage to make your muscles look good.

“We don’t have to pose like bodybuilders, but we do have several poses like one hand on the hip. You have to kind of look like a model up there. That’s how they judge us.”

It’s the judging that sometimes confused Abdul-Saboor.

“There are bodybuilding teams that come to one of the show, and usually someone from the team is in one of the top places, which feels like the judges are biased towards them,” he said. “Several times, there are times that when I didn’t win a show, and I go out into the audience to talk to fans and people watching the show, they don’t understand why I did not win.”

The only judging in bobsled is done by coaches and officials determining who goes into the sled.

Most of the famous athletes who converted before Abdul-Saboor never made it to an Olympics – including Chelios, Moses, Renaldo Nehemiah and Willie Gault.

“Bobsled is definitely harder [than bodybuilding],” Abdul-Saboor said. “It’s just such a unique sport. You get athletes out here who you would think would be able to push fast and do well in bobsled. They might be fast but not strong. Or strong but not fast. Or even both but just don’t have the technique to push the bobsled. You have to have the total package in order to become a good bobsledder.”

Vincent Zhou withdraws from 2019 Grand Prix events

AP
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Reigning World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou withdrew from his fall Grand Prix assignments, Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Thursday.

“It’s really difficult to balance classes and training at the same time,” said Zhou, who is in the middle of his freshman year at Brown University. “I want to perform at the highest level on the ice and in the classroom, and I have not been able to dedicate the necessary time to my skating with my rigorous class schedule. Unfortunately, the timing of my midterms has fallen right in the middle of an important training period for me this fall. This was a tough decision because I love to perform in front of the fans, but this is the best decision for me right now.”

Cup of China is set for Nov. 8-10 in Chongqing, China, while Rostelecom Cup will take place in Moscow, Nov. 15-17. While Skate America concluded this weekend in Las Vegas, next weekend, the skating world turns to Kelowna, British Columbia for Skate Canada.

MORE: Final Skate America takeaways

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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2019-20 Alpine skiing season TV schedule

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NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will combine to air every Alpine skiing World Cup race this season.

Coverage is spread among NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel. Every race streams live on NBC Sports Gold’s “Snow Pass.”

Mikaela Shiffrin headlines the October-through-March circuit that includes stops in the U.S. (Killington, Vt., for the women and Beaver Creek, Colo., for the men).

Shiffrin eyes her fourth straight World Cup overall title — not done by a woman in 45 years — and will likely ascend to No. 3 on the career wins list behind Ingemar Stenmark and Lindsey Vonn.

The retirements of Vonn, Marcel Hirscher and Aksel Lund Svindal leave openings for other young skiers to fill as the Winter Olympic cycle hits its midpoint.

MORE: NBC Sports Gold launches 2019-20 Snow Pass

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2019-20 Alpine skiing World Cup broadcast schedule

Date Time (ET) Event Network
Oct. 26 5 a.m. Women’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Oct. 27 5 a.m. Men’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Nov. 23 7 a.m. Women’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
6 p.m.* Women’s SL – Levi NBCSN
Nov. 24 7 a.m. Men’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
Nov. 30 12:30 p.m. Women’s GS – Killington NBCSN
2 p.m. Men’s DH — Lake Louise Olympic Channel
3:30 p.m.* Women’s GS – Killington NBC
6 p.m.* Women’s GS – Killington Olympic Channel
9 p.m.* Men’s DH — Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 1 12:30 p.m. Women’s SL – Killington NBC
2 p.m. Men’s SG — Lake Louise NBC
6 p.m.* Men’s SG — Lake Louise Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m.* Women’s SL – Killington NBCSN
Dec. 6 12:30 p.m. Men’s SG – Beaver Creek NBCSN
2:30 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
11 p.m.* Women’s DH – Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 7 1 p.m. Men’s DH – Beaver Creek Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
11 p.m.* Men’s DH – Beaver Creek NBCSN
Dec. 8 1 p.m. Women’s SG – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Men’s GS – Beaver Creek Olympic Channel
5 p.m.* Men’s GS – Beaver Creek NBC
6 p.m.* Women’s SG – Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 14 4:30 a.m. Women’s SG – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s GS — Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 15 6:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Women’s PSL – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Women’s PSL – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 17 7:30 a.m. Women’s GS — Courchevel Olympic Channe
6 p.m.* Women’s GS — Courchevel NBCSN
Dec. 20 6 a.m. Men’s SG — Val Gardena Olympic Channel
Dec. 21 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
5:45 a.m. Men’s DH — Val Gardena Olympic Channel
8:30 p.m.* Men’s DH — Val Gardena NBCSN
Dec. 22 6 a.m. Men’s GS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s SC – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m.* Women’s SC – Val d’Isere NBCSN
Dec. 23 12 p.m. Men’s PGS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
Dec. 28 4:15 a.m. Women’s GS – Lienz NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Bormio Olympic Channel
Dec. 29 4 a.m. Women’s SL — Lienz NBC Sports Gold
8 a.m. Men’s SC – Bormio Olympic Channel
Jan. 4 10 a.m. Women’s SL — Zagreb Olympic Channel
2 p.m.* Women’s SL — Zagreb NBCSN
Jan. 5 11:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Zagreb Olympic Channel
Jan. 6 1 a.m.* Men’s SL — Zagreb NBCSN
Jan. 8 2:30 p.m. Men’s SL – Madonna di Campiglio Olympic Channel
Jan. 11 5:45 a.m. Women’s DH — Altenmarkt NBC Sports Gold
7 a.m. Men’s GS — Adelboden Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m.* Men’s GS — Adelboden NBCSN
Jan. 12 3:15 a.m. Women’s SC — Altenmarkt NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Adelboden Olympic Channel
Jan. 13 1 a.m.* Men’s SL — Adelboden NBCSN
Jan. 14 12 p.m.* Women’s SL — Flachau NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 17 8 a.m. Men’s SC — Wengen Olympic Channel
Jan. 18 6:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Wengen Olympic Channel
8 a.m. Women’s GS — Sestriere Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Men’s DH — Wengen NBCSN
9 p.m.* Women’s GS — Sestriere NBCSN
Jan. 19 5:30 a.m. Women’s PSL — Sestriere Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL — Wengen Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Women’s PSL — Sestriere NBCSN
9 p.m.* Men’s SL — Wengen NBCSN
Jan. 24 5:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 25 3:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Bansko Olympic Channel
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
9 a.m.* Women’s DH – Bansko NBCSN
Jan. 26 3 a.m. Women’s SG – Bansko Olympic Channel
4:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – Bansko NBCSN
Jan. 27 1 p.m.* Men’s DH/SG – Kitzbuehel NBCSN
3 p.m.* Men’s SL – Kitzbuehel NBCSN
Jan. 28 11:45 a.m. Men’s SL — Schladming NBC Sports Gold
Feb. 1 3:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Rosa Khutor Olympic Channel
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH – Garmisch Olympic Channel
12:30 p.m.* Men’s DH – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 2 3 a.m. Women’s SG — Rosa Khutor Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Men’s GS – Garmisch Olympic Channel
4 p.m.* Men’s GS – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 8 5:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Garmisch Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL – Chamonix Olympic Channel
2 p.m.* Women’s DH — Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 9 5 a.m. Women’s SG – Garmisch Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s PGS — Chamonix Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 14 10 p.m. Men’s DH — Yanqing Olympic Channel
Feb. 15 7 a.m. Women’s GS – Maribor Olympic Channel
10 p.m. Men’s SG — Yanqing NBCSN
11:30 p.m.* Women’s GS — Maribor NBCSN
Feb. 16 7:30 a.m. Women’s SL — Maribor Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m.* Women’s SL — Maribor NBCSN
Feb. 21 11 p.m. Men’s GS — Naeba Olympic Channel
Feb. 22 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
11 p.m. Men’s SL — Naeba Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m.* Women’s DH — Crans-Montana NBCSN
Feb. 23 7:30 a.m. Women’s SC — Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m.* Women’s SC — Crans-Montana NBCSN
Feb. 29 4:30 a.m. Women’s SG — La Thuile Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Hinterstoder NBC Sports Gold
March 1 12 a.m.* Women’s SG — La Thuile NBCSN
3:45 a.m. Men’s SC — Hinterstoder NBC Sports Gold
8 a.m. Women’s SC — La Thuile Olympic Channel
March 7 5 a.m. Men’s DH — Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Women’s GS — Ofterschwang Olympic Channel
March 8 12 a.m.* Women’s GS — Ofterschwang NBCSN
1 a.m.* Men’s DH — Kvitfjell NBCSN
4:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Women’s SL — Ofterschwang Olympic Channel
March 9 1 a.m.* Women’s SL — Ofterschwang NBCSN
March 12 8 a.m. Women’s PSL — Are NBC Sports Gold
March 13 11 a.m. Women’s GS — Are Olympic Channel
5 p.m.* Women’s GS — Are NBCSN
March 14 10 a.m. Men’s GS — Kranjska Gora Olympic Channel
11 a.m. Women’s SL — Are Olympic Channel
March 15 3:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Kranjska Gora NBC Sports Gold
March 18 3:30 a.m. Men’s DH — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
5 a.m. Women’s DH – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m.* Men’s DH — World Cup Finals NBCSN
3:30 p.m.* Women’s DH – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 19 4 a.m. Women’s SG – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
5 a.m. Men’s SG – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
11 a.m.* Women’s SG – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 20 6 a.m. Team Event – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
11 a.m.* Team Event – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 21 6 a.m. Men’s GS — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s SL — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
March 22 12 a.m.* Men’s GS — World Cup Finals NBCSN
1 a.m.* Women’s SL — World Cup Finals NBCSN
6 a.m. Women’s GS — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
March 23 12 a.m.* Women’s GS – World Cup Finals NBCSN

*Delayed broadcast