Sliding for Luxembourg brings Jeff Bauer’s family history full circle
December 6, 2017
Park City resident Jeff Bauer, 44, is riding a strange turn of events that's generations in the making. Improbably, it could cast him into the history books as the first skeleton racer to compete in the Olympics for the tiny European nation of Luxembourg.
Bauer's grandfather, Robert, worked for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and for several years was stationed in Luxembourg while John (Robert's son and Jeff's father) was in high school.
John, too, took a job with Goodyear after graduating college, and was also transferred to Luxembourg, so the Bauers spent another 10 years there until 1991.
Over that time, Jeff became a skilled basketball player and even got to play on the country's Junior National team.
That history, along with Luxembourg's changes in citizenship policy, have helped Jeff establish skeleton racing as a sport in Luxembourg, and have given him a shot at competing in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
His foray into skeleton started following a decade of competitive triathlon and bike racing. Then, on the threshold of 40, he started looking for something new. He found his answer while grocery shopping: a flier for G-Force Skeleton and Bobsled – the feeder program for the U.S. Skeleton and Bobsled federation – which is held at the Utah Olympic Park.
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He was a little older than the rest of the participants, but the instructors didn't mind. And as soon as he rode the track he was hooked.
"I immediately knew I wanted to compete in it, because that's just who I am," he said.
More than that, the sport had an intense charm, and so he devoted himself to it.
"Even though it's all about time, it's timeless when you're in there because you totally become one with that sled," he said. "And you have to have that because if you start thinking when you are in there, then you're in trouble."
"You kind of have to let go," he added. "It's a juxtaposition between having this really high-intensity thing going on where you could get really hurt, and being so relaxed and trusting at the same time. I think that's very unique to this sport."
He practiced and competed steadily for a year, then decided it was time to reconnect with his past. He contacted Luxembourg and told them he wanted to race for the country that he had grown up in. He presented his history, and his plan.
"I thought: why not?" said Nadine Knepper, president of the Fédération Luxembourgeoise des Sports de Glace, the governing body of Luxembourg's winter Olympic sports.
But it wasn't that straightforward.
"In order to compete in a sport for Luxembourg, you need a competitor's license," Knepper said. "As there was no skeleton club nor a skeleton federation in Luxembourg (no training possibilities inside the country), he had to found first a club with a committee then a union and then the union had to be adopted during a General Assembly by the Federation."
Basically, not only would Bauer be the nation's first skeleton racer, but by default he had to be the founder of the nation's first skeleton racing team and the representative nonprofit organization.
Knepper said there were a lot of steps to follow to create the organization, but Bauer completed each one diligently.
"He took the initiative to introduce a new winter sport in Luxembourg and this is a good thing," she said.
Bauer started coordinating with the Luxembourg consulate in Austria to promote the sport among the Luxembourgish student body at the University of Innsbruck, which is also home to the Olympic bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track in Innbruck-Igls, which hosted the Winter Games in 1976.
"Theres a track right next to that university," Jeff said. "We got them sliding and hooked them up with an Austrian coach who agreed to help them out. He was in the Olympics in Torino I think."
This past year, Jeff has been focused on his own Olympic hopes. To make sure he could fulfill his commitment to Luxembourg as a skeleton racer, he needed someone that could help him get fit.
Jeff said he immediately thought of his favorite football team, the Ohio State Buckeyes, and contacted Anthony Schlegel, a former assistant strength and conditioning coach, middle linebacker and NFL player.
"It's kind of weird at first," Schlegel said in a phone interview. "A guy hits you up off Facebook asking if you'll train him. I'd never met him but he's a Buckeye fan."
So Schlegel asked Jeff to come out to Ohio for a sit-down and to see if it would be a good fit.
"He did, and it's been really fun," Schlegel said.
Schlegel makes recommendations for Jeff. Jeff follows the recommendations to a T, takes videos of himself working on his sprints and workout form, then sends them to Schlegel. Schlegel reviews them and makes further recommendations.
"He first had to start at the fundamentals," Schlegel said. That meant bulking up to improve his weight-to-sled ratio, then quickening his sprints.
"It's really been focused on how we apply power to the ground and how we make him a more powerful athlete," Schlegel said. "Tons of core work and neck work. … You have to be able to look through your visor."
Jeff said he trains more for the 30-yard sprint leading into the skeleton races than he ever did for triathlons, and his work is starting to pay off.
"It would be good if I was up a couple countries, but given where I am right now, I'm extremely pleased, and if I hold my position I have a good chance," he said of his Olympic odds. "I'm extremely pleased. But No. 1 goal is to continue to have fun because I just feel so lucky to be doing this."
At the North America Cup in Park City on Nov. 28, Jeff finished 16th overall in a competitive field of 30 international competitors.
"From 10th place to 20th place, 0.3 seconds separated everybody," he said. "So to be in the mix and to get a second run (you have to be in the top 20 to get a second run), I was extremely pleased with those results."
Knepper agreed that he is showing promise.
Despite the chance that Bauer might not make the Olympics, he said the ride has been incredible. The expenses, the training, the bureaucratic legwork – it's all worth it to him. He said racing for Luxembourg is bringing his life, and his family history, full circle again.