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Former track star? Nope, this bobsledder played football

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Aja Evans. Lolo Jones. Ryan Bailey. They all have one thing in common: they took their skills from the track to the bobsled slope. The 2018 U.S. bobsled team is stocked with former track stars (see Evans, Bailey and Chris Kinney), but another squad member is crossing over from another sport — Sam McGuffie got his start on the football field.

McGuffie, who’s high school football reel is filled with outlandish highlights, played collegiately at the University of Michigan and Rice University, and was signed by the Oakland Raiders in 2013. He was subsequently waived, but had stints on the practice squad for the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots. The bobsled was calling his name, though. By 2015, he was a member of the USA Bobsled National Team.

NBCOlympics.com: 2018 U.S. Olympic bobsled team

He will be on both the two-man and four-man bobsled teams for Team USA starting February 18 as a crewman for pilot Codie Bascue. He’s not the only former football player on the roster — Carlo Valdez played at UCLA. But McGuffie player has been turning heads within the bobsled community in the lead up to PyeongChang thanks to his athleticism — and it seems he’s a perfect fit for the sledding world.

“He insanely gifted,” Bascue said. “He is also the most natural athlete I have ever seen.”

McGuffie has been showing off that athleticism since he was hurdling would-be tacklers on the football field not that long ago. He knows his quickness that he honed in football is a good thing. “When you are a running back,” he told reporters on a conference call in January, “you have to explode through the hole. That’s what I do in bobsled.”

“He’s like a cheetah,” U.S. bobsled head coach Brian Shimer said. “He just steps up and is about as explosive of a guy as I’ve ever seen.”

McGuffie is even drawing comparisons to one of bobsled’s biggest stars: Aja Evans. In fact, the Olympic bronze medalist compared McGuffie to herself. “I feel like he is the male version of me with his explosiveness and dynamic power,” she said. “To watch him do so many things with that pop and power is pretty cool.”

NBCOlympics.com: Meet Team USA’s bodybuilder-turned-bobsledder

Like Evans, who was a five-time All-American on the track for the University of Illinois, McGuffie was on the track team in college, too. While football was his specialty, he competed in everything from the 60-meter hurdles to the pole vault. He’s hoping he can be like her on one more way, too: by winning an Olympic medal. Team USA won four medals in the bobsled in Sochi, three bronze and one silver.

No matter the result, McGuffie is already looking to the future, and how he could possibly make another team — this time in the 2020 Summer Games in rugby. “The next Summer Games is in Tokyo,” he said. “It would be kinda cool if I can do that.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to his bobsled brethren.

“We are glad that we can have him,” Valdes said. “He definitely still has NFL potential if he still wanted to do that. Or if he wanted to do something else, he would probably be good at that, too. Like rugby.”

Seth Rubinroit contributed reporting to this story. 

Jamaican bobsledders want to return to the Olympics, so they’re pushing a Mini Cooper

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The Jamaican bobsled team’s push for the next Winter Olympics took a detour to the roads of Great Britain.

Numerous British media outlets reported in the last week on Shanwayne Stephens and Nimroy Turgott, who have been pushing cars, including a Mini Cooper, in Peterborough.

“We had to come up with our own ways of replicating the sort of pushing we need to do [in bobsledding amid the coronavirus pandemic],” Stephens, a reported British resident since age 11, said, according to Reuters. “So that’s why we thought: why not go out and push the car?

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start the car. When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different, and they’re very excited.”

The Jamaican bobsled team rose to fame with its Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, inspiring the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014, with a best finish of 14th.

A Jamaican women’s sled debuted at the Olympics in 2018, driven by 2014 U.S. Olympian Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian. A Jamaican men’s sled just missed qualifying for PyeongChang by one spot in world rankings.

Stephens, a driver, is 51st and 56th in the current world rankings for the four-person and two-man events, respectively.

He competed in lower-level international races last season with a best finish of sixth in a four-person race that had seven sleds. One of Stephens’ push athletes was Carrie Russell, a 2018 Olympian in the two-woman event and former sprinter who won a world title in the 4x100m in 2013.

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MORE: Sam Clayton, Jamaica’s first bobsled driver, was ‘a pioneer of pioneers’

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and a Tour de France rivalry that brought tears

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich
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Lance Armstrong reportedly breaks down into tears in Sunday’s second episode of his ESPN documentary, discussing his closest rival during his run of seven Tour de France titles, all later stripped for doping.

Armstrong visited Jan Ullrich in Germany in 2018, after Ullrich was released from a psychiatric hospital following multiple reported arrests over assault charges.

“The reason I went to see him is I love him,” Armstrong said, followed by tears, according to reports. “It was not a good trip. He was the most important person in my life.”

Ullrich struggled with reported substance abuse, saying in a 2018 letter in German newspaper Bild that he detoxed in a Miami facility and that he had “an illness.”

Ullrich, after winning the 1997 Tour de France, finished second to Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

He retired in 2007. In 2013, he admitted to doping during his career (which had been widely assumed), five months after Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“Nobody scared me, motivated me. The other guys … no disrespect to them, didn’t get me up early,” Armstrong said in the ESPN film, according to Cycling Weekly. “He got me up early. And [in 2018] he was just a f—ing mess.”

Armstrong and Ullrich’s most notable Tour de France interactions: In Stage 10 in 2001, on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59.

In Stage 15 in 2003, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement. Ullrich and others slowed to allow Armstrong to remount and catch up. Armstrong won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07, eventually winning the Tour by 1:01, by far the closest of his seven titles (again, all later stripped).

For Armstrong, Ullrich began transforming from rival to friend in 2005. After Armstrong won his last (later stripped) Tour de France that July, he was told Ullrich wanted to show up at Armstrong’s victory party in a luxury Paris hotel. Ullrich wanted to say a few words in front of hundreds of Armstrong supporters.

“If you know Jan, you know that his English is not great,” Armstrong said in a 2017 episode of one of his podcasts. “I’m just going, no, this can’t be happening. This is not real. Jan showed up and took the mic and gave a speech and talked about me and talked about us. It was the classiest thing that anybody ever did for me in my cycling career. I’ll never forget it. I love him for it.

“I wasn’t man enough to do that. If the roles were reversed, there’s no way I would have done that. But for him to do that, that’s something that I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”

In 2017, Armstrong was upset that Ullrich wasn’t invited to appear at the Tour de France’s opening stages, held in Germany that year. In 2013, when Ullrich fessed up to doping, he said of his chief rival and fellow cheater, “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either.”

Ullrich (and other dopers) kept his Tour de France title, a fact that Armstrong has brought up in interviews since his confession. Ullrich was reportedly asked in 2016 by CyclingTips if he considered Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France champion.

“This is a hard question,” he said, according to the report. “It’s not good, that in all those years, you have no winner. It’s not good for history, it’s not good for the Tour de France. I have heard all the stories about Lance. It’s a hard question. I don’t know the answer. I’m not the judge. But for the history of the Tour de France, it’s not good that there is no winner.”

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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