SOCHI, Russia — Making a Winter Olympic team is not a poor man’s endeavor. Lift tickets can exceed $100 a day, bobsled runners carry a four-digit price tag, and booking private ice-rink time can quickly turn a ledger red. And that’s not including transoceanic flights and lodging to compete internationally.
Successful halfpipe snowboarders often draw lucrative contracts that allow them to train full time, year round. NHL players’ pay stubs have plenty of digits before the decimal. Other athletes rely on their parents’ bankrolls. But some U.S. Winter Olympians support their athletic careers with regular full-time jobs.
“There are a handful of us,” said John Teller, and they tend to congregate in certain sports.
The U.S. Olympic curling team includes a junior high school science teacher, a restaurant manager and a physician’s assistant. A half-dozen U.S. Olympic bobsledders and lugers are in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program.
In 2011, Teller became the first American to win a World Cup skicross event. In 2013 he captured a world championship bronze medal.
“Talent is a huge part of what’s gotten me here,” he acknowledged, but his work ethic really was really born in his family’s garage.
At 15, his father, grandfather and uncle taught him the family trade.
“I love fixing cars and solving problems,” he said, but “it’s a stressful job because I have people’s lives in my hands when they’re driving their children and families. That’s something I take very serious.” Ultimately, though, there are no Olympics for auto repair, and the bearded, blue-eyed Californian said, “If I have one talent — one thing that is John Teller — it is my skiing.
“Coaches I’ve had love my style. Other athletes tell me they love how I ski. I’m a clean skier. I have a lot of finesse. That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. That means a lot to me. It really does.”
Yet he was burned out on alpine racing in 2006 and quit the sport for a year and a half. Discovering skicross rejuvenated his interest and, once again, he became a man with two careers.
“Skicross, I feel, was built for me,” he said, “the jumping, the speed and the close-quarter battling.” But skicross also has a high luck factor, and Teller isn’t saying whether he’ll work overtime to make it through another four-year Olympic cycle.
Impending fatherhood and the grind of double duty has him wondering, at 30, how long his prime will last.
“It’s not the age,” the mechanic said, “but the mileage.”