BETHEL, Maine — On Monday morning, Mainer Frankie Del Duca made his Olympic debut with Team USA, competing in the two-man bobsled.
Del Duca is a Bethel native. He attended Telstar High School and was a top sprinter at the University of Maine.
Del Duca and his partner, Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, finished 15th in the two-person sled competition in Beijing on Monday, which consisted of two heats.
Since the top 20 advanced to Tuesday's competition, Del Duca and Abdul-Saboor were back in action Tuesday, finishing 13th overall in the competition.
Del Duca is scheduled to compete in the four-man bobsled on Feb. 19 and 20. One of his teammates in that event will be James Reed, who was also his teammate on the UMaine track and field team.
Del Duca spent his first three years in bobsled as a push athlete but transitioned to driving after missing a spot on Team USA in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.
"When I was a push athlete, I never saw the speed. I just felt it," Del Duca said.
The 30-year-old said he loves anything that involves racing, which led him to bobsled.
"Racing cars, racing video games, everything's just been about racing and going fast," Del Duca said. "I love to drive. That's my connection to the soul."
"All my passions wrapped into one adrenaline-fueled package, and now I made the team, and it's hard to fathom, really," Del Duca said in an interview in January, after Team USA announced he had made the team.
Del Duca competes as the driver in the two-man and four-man sled. He said the four-man sled is larger but not much heavier than the two-man sled.
"As a driver, I love the camaraderie of the four-man sled and just how fast it is. The push is so much faster," he said. "You have four hyped-up guys pushing as hard as they can, so it gets out like a bullet out of a barrel of a gun."
The extra weight means more momentum, pressure into the track, G-forces, and ultimately, more speed.
Del Duca topped out at 83.2 miles per hour during his first heat on Monday. He said the fastest speed he has ever hit is 97 miles per hour during a race in Whistler, Canada.
Frank Del Duca competes in first two heats of 2-man bobsled at the Winter Olympics
On Team USA's four-man team will be Del Duca's UMaine track teammate, James Reed. The two competed in the 4x100m relay together during their time in Orono.
"Those are two of the best track and field athletes ever at the University of Maine," one of their former UMaine coaches, Dave Cusano, said. "Especially when you're at the top of the mountain about to get into a sled and start humming it at 88 to 90 miles an hour, trust and belief in one another will be a huge factor."
Cusano is now the head track coach at Colby College. Coach Cusano's short stint in bobsled and the techniques he brought to track practice led Del Duca and Reed to become interested in the sport.
"It was a little bit of a sprinkle in those guys' ears at some point, I guess, and I don't know why exactly it made them go do it. But they're obviously representing our country and our state and my alma mater and their alma mater, so I couldn't be more proud of them," Cusano said. "Those are two gentlemen who were incredibly driven, extremely coachable, and had big desire to be successful — and that makes a coach's job really really easy."
Del Duca is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and is temporarily stationed at the Olympic training facility in Lake Placid, New York. He is an infantryman and said the WCAP allowed him to pursue his Olympic dream, since the sport is self-funded. Team USA does not fund its athletes to compete.
"I worked. I did what I could. But when you're training full-time, it's very difficult to have a traditional job," Del Duca said. "I worked as much as I could. I sold off whatever I could. I had a mountain bike, an Xbox — I don't need that stuff anymore, and the priority was bobsled, and if it wasn't bobsled-related, it was gone. Once you run out of that, you're like, 'I need to find a way to have this be sustainable.'"
"It's an honor to serve, and we say we wear two uniforms and they're for the same team. So, it's a pretty big honor," he said.
Another Maine Olympian, luge athlete Emily Sweeney, is also in the WCAP and is a Military Police officer. She is Del Duca's superior, which Del Duca said has been helpful for him to have someone to ask both military and sliding-related questions.
Del Duca plans to continue competing in bobsled for as long as he can.
"My competitive drive and that internal fire that I had as a kid is as large as it's ever been and I don't anticipate ever wanting to stop," he said. "As long as I'm competitive and as long as I can be healthy, I'm going to be doing this sport."