Frank Del Duca and Jimmy Reed took different routes to this year’s U.S. Olympic bobsled team but the starting line was the same: the University of Maine.
Both were track athletes on the Orono campus, Del Duca an America East champion in the long jump and Reed a school-record holder in the hurdles, though they joined forces at one point on the Black Bears’ 4×100 relay team.
Now nearly eight years after they graduated from UMaine in 2014, the two 30-year-olds will slide together during the four-man bobsled competition in Beijing, with Del Duca the pilot and Hall a push athlete for the same sled.
“During the last Olympic year Frankie said at one point, ‘You know Jimmy, I just have this feeling we’re going to be in the same sled at the Olympics,’” Reed said. “That ended up not happening in 2018 but he was just four years too early because here we are now going to be in the same sled at the Olympics.”
Del Duca also will pilot a two-man bobsled during the Olympics, which run Feb. 4-20.
Competition in the two-man bobsled is set for Feb. 14-15, with two runs each day to crown the medalists. Four-man competition follows Feb. 19-20, again with two runs each day.
“It means so much to myself and Jimmy to feel the outpouring of love and support and encouragement from the people in Maine and at the university,” said Del Duca, also a graduate of Telstar High School in Bethel. “We’re going to represent Maine to the best of our abilities.”
Del Duca and Reed were encouraged to consider the bobsled while still at UMaine by former assistant track coach Dave Cusano, a member of the 2004 U.S. bobsled team.
“Dave spoke to a handful of athletes on the team and we all expressed interest in varying degrees,” Del Duca said. “It was one of those things where we said we’ll focus on what we’re doing now and when we graduate we’ll see what kind of shape we’re in and if it’s something we want to do.”
Reed did some of his early bobsled training at UMaine with the support of Black Bears’ head track coach Mark Lech.
“When I first started out I just wanted to continue my athletic career,” Reed said. “I felt like I had more to give than I showed in track and field at UMaine and I wanted to continue training if possible so I started bobsledding.
“I don’t think I had expectations of going to the Olympics. It just looked like something that would be cool to try.”
Del Duca, who suffered a knee injury before his senior year at UMaine, waited until 2015 before beginning his bobsledding career.
“I always watched the bobsled every four years during the Olympics,” said Del Duca, who competed in soccer, track and skiing in high school and originally had his eyes on the X Games more than the Olympics.
“Once I found out they held combines throughout the summers to recruit people and assess athletic potential, that’s when I decided it was possible to at least try out and see what it was like and if I had what it takes.”
Del Duca and Reed quickly established themselves as competitive push athletes nationally and were poised to contend for spots on Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Reed, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a student-athlete at UMaine, won four World Cup medals during the season preceding that Olympic qualifying period while pushing for Steven Holcomb, the gold medal-winning four-man bobsled pilot at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
But Reed’s chances of competing in Pyeongchang were short-circuited by a hamstring injury he suffered in 2017.
“I had shown that I was good enough and had put in the time and effort, so that injury was pretty devastating and took me a long time to come back from,” he said.
Del Duca reached the World Cup level as a push athlete within several months after his initial tryout, but he also was unable to earn an 2018 Olympic berth.
“That was a goal,” he said. “I was working toward that but it was just a hyper-competitive group of guys and sometimes you do good enough and sometimes you don’t.”
While Reed has remained a push athlete, Del Duca soon opted to become a full-time bobsled pilot.
“I love racing and did a little bit of autocross and car racing and liked that side of it,” he said. “Once I switched to driving I knew that was ultimately where I would end up. The feeling I get when I drive is impossible to duplicate anywhere else.”
Del Duca earned his Olympic berth as a pilot with a strong showing last fall and early winter in the North American Cup, the level just below World Cup competition.
His teams earned podium finishes in all 16 of their NAC races in late 2021, earning Del Duca a promotion to the World Cup during the Christmas break.
Two weeks after his World Cup driving debut, he was named an Olympian.
“What being on the podium did was I suddenly realized that I could actually make this dream come true,” Del Duca said. “I just needed to stay focused, driven and not let anything get in the way or derail the performance of our sled. When we went to the World Cup we weren’t winning races like we were in the North America Cup, but it was a great learning experience.”
Reed had a strong start to the current Olympic four-year cycle, or quad, pushing first for Codie Bascue and then Hunter Church — with whom he earned another World Cup podium finish in early 2020.
Then bilateral hernia surgery forced him to miss the 2020-21 season.
“I had COVID on top of that and I just sat in my room in Lake Placid for like a year and a half just recovering and getting ready for this season,” he said.
“The timeline was supposed to be pretty manageable, but I ended up running out of time toward the end. It took me probably seven or eight months to return from my hernia surgery and that left me only two months to be 100 percent healthy and train for our first push championships back at the end of July.”
Reed persevered and continued to build physical and competitive momentum leading up to the Olympic selection period while pushing for Bascue.
“Right now I’m healthy, training’s been going really well,” he said. “Ever since the start of the season I feel like I’ve been getting better and better and returning to my old form. It’s nice to get back to what I felt like I was capable of.”
Reed, Del Duca and the rest of the U.S. bobsled team are scheduled to leave for Beijing on Friday from a 10-day holding camp in Chula Vista, California, where the two University of Maine graduates have worked out together to prepare for their Olympic debuts.
“It’s been kind of fun to watch Frankie and I take very different paths to these Olympics but then end up on the same sled,” Reed said. “Frankie’s certainly capable of putting together four clean runs and we’re going to have some good pushes. I think we’re going to surprise some people and have a decent amount of success.”