(August 3, 2020) – For the 13th installment of Getting to Know… we catch up with American push athlete Carlo Valdes. A 2018 Olympian on the back of Justin Olsen’s sled, Carlo is making his return to the sport after spending the past two seasons away. Through his career he’s won eight World Cup medals, including gold in 2016 on the back of Steven Holcomb’s two-man sled.
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Not a lot of surprises for question number one: What’s your favorite track on the calendar and why?
My favorite track has to be St. Moritz. It’s the favorite track to a lot of athletes out there and it’s pretty easy to explain why. For one, the scenery. You’re in Switzerland and it’s beautiful. Two, it’s the only natural track still in existence. It’s super smooth, quiet, fast, long, it’s just always fun to go there. It’s one of my favorite weeks on the schedule. I’ve done well there, both with Holcomb and with Cody we got sixth there in the Olympic year. It’s definitely my favorite, by far.
Other than the track, where is your favorite town to visit on the schedule?
We don’t really go out in the town much, but it could be a tie between Whistler and Berchtesgaden. Whistler is a great village, it’s very active. Königssee/Berchtesgaden is more of the same. It’s always really fun to go to both of those towns, for sure.
After the 2018 Olympic Games you stepped away from the sport. What brings you back?
Really a few things. I kept the door open when I stepped away after 2018. I just needed to get some things together and take care of myself. Get a career going, I wanted to get that going and not wait any longer. Really, with everything that happened that year, with Holcomb’s death and Justin [Olsen]’s appendectomy during the Olympic Games, just a lot happened that year and the rug was just swept out from underneath me and a few other guys. I kept the door open though, I wanted to get myself in a better spot and I wanted to come back and make sure if I did we had a solid shot at getting a medal in World Championships in Lake Placid and the Olympics the next year. Those are the two main reasons, and I knew I had something left. That said, after 2022 I’m definitely done, there’s no coming back after that. But at the time I wasn’t done yet, and I know there’s potential for medals at World Championships and the Olympics out there.
Did you talk to Steve Langton or Nick Cunningham or any of those guys who’d stepped away and come back, or was this kind of an “on your own” decision?
I didn’t really talk to anyone specifically about coming back. Steve had explained his process a little bit, but really those years I wasn’t just sitting on the couch or anything. I did do a couple of races with Frank [Del Duca] and was planning on doing National Championships with him back in March before COVID hit. It’s cool having control over your own schedule because I can kind of do whatever and train whenever. It’s given me a little more freedom compared to some people that had a 9-5 job, and it’s nice.
You were a collegiate decathlete and javelin thrower, how is the training for that compared to bobsled?
Training is really the same. I get my strength programs from my coach Art Venegas, who was my coach at college for a year. He’s still coaching Olympic caliber athletes in the throws, so I still utilize the strength training I did as a thrower. I’m running my own program right now because of work, I’m the only one who really knows my own schedule. With the sprints, it’s just stuff I added on with the help of a couple sprint coaches at the time when I was at UCLA. I’ve implemented all of that and find time to get everything I need to done. So the transition from throwing to bobsled was really no different from a training standpoint
When you’re not training for bobsled, what do you do to kill time?
I like to unplug on weekends, because you really need to, you can’t maintain a high level all of the time. I really sleep a lot on weekends, that’s for sure! I’ll play some golf if I have the time. I’m at the beach here, and it’s beach season, so I’m there a lot. It’s hard to beat that, really. Other than that, a few of us are still big beer snobs, so I’ll go check out some breweries here or there. It’s a hobby, I say at this point I’m powered by beer! It’s fun though, there’s always new stuff coming out and it’s fun to try them. I’m not ever locking myself down on one thing.
Do you have a favorite brewery you’ve been to?
I’d say my favorites would be Bottle Logic out in Anaheim, then you’ve got The Bruery which is maybe five minutes away. There’s just so many good options out here. Modern Times is great, they’re based out of San Diego but have regional breweries up the coastline here. I could go on forever with lists, but just to name a few.
When you’re on tour do you try to find any breweries where you are?
We don’t really have the time for that like I’d like, plus I don’t know that they have any true “breweries” in those areas. Maybe some of the old school one for sure, but that’s about it. They keep it very simple there which is fine, but it’s still really good. I’ll have two or three after a race and feel better when I wake up the next morning. It’s more like a meal there, there’s a huge amount of carbs in those!
On the morning of race day, what is your warm-up routine like? What kind of music are you listening to?
Mentally I’m very adamant about mental preparation when it comes to race days, because my body knows and my mind knows that it’s time. Something is triggered in my head and my body feels it and knows it. I wake up, go to breakfast, take about four to five green tea bags and drink all that and it jumpstarts the system a little bit. I get to the track, we get the sled, I always drink a Monster energy on the way to the track so it’s more caffeine going into the system. Once we’re there I get my mind right, start listening to music, mostly metal. It gets me in a certain mindset. Once everything’s ready to go I warm up, it’s a huge mental preparation for me, I really try to visualize a lot. I make sure I’m good and warm, then probably 15 minutes or so prior to our first heat I take another giant scoop of pre-workout, do a dry scoop right to the dome! At that point I’m at nearly 800mg of caffeine. Same routine for the second heat and at that point I’m at about a gram of caffeine on race day! It just puts me in the right spot mentally, I’m still nervous but I’m not feeling much of anything else. I just have one goal, I’m very hyper-focused in that sense, and it works for me!
What would you say is your favorite memory as a bobsledder?
I would say all of the times that we were on the podium. Winning in Lake Placid with Holcomb for his first gold since the 2014 Olympics was great. The leader box moments, especially in St. Moritz where we climbed the ladder for a third place finish in 2017. Getting second in four-man in Lake Placid, really all of the podium moments were so much fun. I wish it could have been a better experience at the Olympics but that is what it is. I’d say just those medal and leader box moments.
On the other side, what’s been your worst sliding sport memory?
Besides losing Holcomb, I’d say probably crashing in a race with Nick. I’ve only crashed that one time in a race and it was at Whistler wit Nick. We were probably going to get a solid podium finish, too. We were flying in that race, we went with a little thicker runner setup and it got really cold overnight. I thought he was going to make it and then we crashed, and it’s never fun crashing in Whistler. We were going, at that point, nearly 94 mph in a two-man and that sucked. But I’m glad we went for it, it just got away from him and we couldn’t make it happen. It just sucked.
When you’re going over, from a brakeman’s perspective, at what point do you realize you’re going over?
You know when you should be coming out of a curve, and you know when something’s wrong. In Whistler if you hit out of Curve 11 you better brace yourself! So we hit and I thought he could save it, we went into Curve 12 late of course, then we went into 50/50 late and that’s when I knew. It wasn’t more of a weightless feeling, it was a lot more of a “we’re tipping, we’re tipping…”. There’s two feelings you can get: There’s a slow tipping feeling and then an absolute weightless feeling. I guess with the adrenaline going you get used to it and you just kind of take it.
What advice would you give an athlete who’s decided to get into bobsled?
Commit. Commit and really dive in head first because that’s really the only way to do it when you start. I don’t think there’s any other way to get yourself into
the sport and that’s how you get good. There’s people who get into the sport and are great out of the gate, there are people who show up and are kind of “mid-pack”, and there’s guys like me who had a pretty slow start in my opinion. I got hurt, which didn’t help, but I stuck with it and stayed in Lake Placid even though I was hurt and just continued to get better and better. I was able to finally have everything click for me probably half of the way through the season my first year, then I didn’t look back, especially once I got on Holcomb’s sled. Then you have guys who took a few years to really get going, like Hakeem [Abdul-Saboor] is a great example of that. He was good out of the gate but it didn’t exactly click with him right away, he stuck with it and the next thing you know he’s doing awesome and translating his speed and power to the sled. We’ve had a lot of really talented people who came out who could have been great but didn’t stick with it and just left. You’ve just got really trust that it’ll happen or click with it.
A lot of you who come out are talented and have been really good at other sports, is it tough going from being really good at something to starting over in a new sport?
For me, I could see why it would be case for some people because they’ve just been good all of the time and can’t figure out why they’re not doing well. For me I just am like “I suck, so how do I get better?” and I started asking questions and hanging around the ones who are doing well. That’s what I did: I kind of latched myself onto those people who were doing well. Like Justin for example, and other veterans who had been around for a while and knew what you had to do to be better an well-versed in all aspects of the sport. You have to get the sled together, be able to adapt to the travel, take care of your body and recovery, being an ambassador into the sport, there’s just a lot that goes into it. You can’t just be a good athlete and expect to succeed, you have to be good in all areas and that’s the difference maker in my opinion.
Guest question (Reid Watts – Luge Canada): What is your training setup like during lockdown? How are you staying active, how are you staying in shape?
My friend Chad Smith is the owner of Juggernaut Training Systems, and he’s got a home gym. He’s pretty well known in the US for powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and crossfit. I’ve known him since we were kids and he’s got a gym about ten minutes away from me in Costa Mesa, so I’m able to utilize that. He’s actually training Kyle [Wilcox] and Blane [McConnell] on the team, so I think he got fascinated about how my training was with Art and he started training those guys. So I train out of his gym, and then I work out in my normal gym at CrossFit Tustin which is open in a limited capacity. I do my sled pushes there, and any of the lifts that I shouldn’t do in Chad’s gym like jerks and cleans at 10 PM. I don’t want to wake the neighbors! SO that’s how I’m getting my lifts in. As far as sprints and pushes and runs, I push on the sled at the Tustin gym, and then I use a hill near where I work for hill sprints. I haven’t had access to any tracks because out here all the schools are closed and the tracks are chained up. So I haven’t put on a pair of spikes in a long time, but you have to get it done somehow!