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From Pittsfield to Sochi: Terry Holland Heads For the Olympics

By Lisa Green

Terry Holland goes for a run.

“There are a lot of religious conversions at the top of a skeleton run,” says Terry Holland, who’s on his way to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where he’ll be coaching New Zealand’s Olympic skeleton team.

No kidding. You’re belly down on barely the rails of a slide, about to burn up the bobsled track with your chin inches away from the ice. Even a diehard atheist might suddenly find belief in a higher power. Competitors steer the steel and fiberglass sled with their body movements, even though their arms are plastered to their sides. At 80 to 90 miles per hour, the G forces are comparable to those endured by jet pilots.

Holland knows about staring down the ice. The Pittsfield entrepreneur (you read about him and his drones in Rural Intelligence a few weeks ago) was captain of the U.S. skeleton team for 21 years and is a multiple-time U.S. and North American champion; he came in fourth place at the 1997 World Championships at Lake Placid. He was instrumental in getting skeleton accepted as an Olympic sport in 2002, but just missed qualifying for the U.S. team by a fraction of a second. So Holland, one of the top American sliders, became one of the coaches and trained the American Olympic team that won men’s gold and women’s silver and gold medals that year in Salt Lake City.

And now he’s going to Sochi to coach the New Zealand team, one man and one woman. Holland had worked with them at Lake Placid, and coached them at a pre-Olympic event in Sochi last November. That’s where he shot the video, below, for New Zealand TV, using an iPad mini. He’s doing the voiceover, too.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games run February 7 – 23.

Tall, skeleton-sled slim and looking as fit as in his competitive days, Holland lives in Pittsfield with his wife (all three of his daughters have gotten married in the past two years), and it’s where he developed and honed his passion for winter sports. As a teenager, he was a competitive cross-country skier and Nordic ski jumper, which he’d practice in the Pittsfield State Forest.

Why the skeleton?

Holland sans the helmet.

“When you’re really bored in the winter…” he starts out. “It feels like when you jump on a sled,” he tries again. We get it. It’s a rush.

In 2004, the Australian Institute of Sport tapped Holland to develop a women’s skeleton team. It was for a study to determine if talent in one area transfers to another. Out of dozens of athletes, he picked out 10 women, (athletes, yes, but some had never seen ice outside of their drinks), and turned them into world-class skeleton competitors. In two years.

“I’m a big fan of can’t-do-it projects,” he says.

If that’s the case, you’d think he might be a tad more excited to be going to the games in Russia, considering all the doubts about Russia’s ability to pull off its latest megaproject. Having been there last fall as the Russian Olympic committee was preparing for the athletes and crowds, Holland is holding his enthusiasm in reserve. He had good-to-great experiences at the Olympics in Salt Lake City (2002), Torino (2006) and Vancouver (2010), but Sochi may be an entirely different story. (Much of what he observed in Sochi is captured in a New York Times article.)

Holland’s Olympic rings, left to right: 2010 (Vancouver), 2006 (Torino) and 2002 (Salt Lake City).

To say that the Russians are focused on winning is an understatement,” Holland says. He’s concerned about rule bending and perceived infractions, which pains the lifelong competitor who still believes in the Olympic credo, where humans strive for excellence and push the boundaries of what they can do. He’ll be staying in the Olympic Village, and although no one knows what mayhem might arise, he feels there’s safety in the Village’s security bubble. The Internet is spotty and monitored, though, so he won’t be bringing his personal computer. It’s possible he’ll be marching in the opening ceremonies, as he’s done in the past — if it doesn’t conflict with the bobsled and luge training and competitions, which he wants to watch.

And once his New Zealanders finish their runs, Holland will be back on Siberian Airlines to start the 33-hour trek back to Pittsfield, wearing his fourth Olympics ring and ready to do some good old downhill skiing in the Berkshires. If it’s not too tame for him.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/25/14 at 02:35 PM • Permalink