Kongela’s Olympic Quest
It all started on a whim – almost as a joke – but Dakarai Kongela’s quest to represent the U.S. at the 2014 Olympics isn’t a laughing matter now.
Kongela, a standout track athlete at George Fox before graduation in 2011, is training as a member of the U.S. bobsled team with the hope of earning a spot at next year’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia. His quest began when he came across an August 2011 recruiting ad that sought athletes who had run track or played football. Kongela applied and, after impressing at an open tryout in Park City, Utah, earned an invitation to Lake Placid, N.Y., that September to compete against the best from other combines.
It was there that Kongela, a two-time All-American in the 100-meter dash, got a close-up look at a bobsled for the first time. He came in 12th, just behind the existing national team athletes and some of the top rookies. Still, he didn’t know if he’d get a chance to stay with the team, because drivers are the ones who pick who they want on their sled.
“It was one of the scariest moments of my life,” he says. But he did end up getting an invitation from Cory Butner, who joined the national team in 2007.
Most recently, Kongela served as a brakeman and push athlete for driver Jake Peterson’s two-man and four-man teams, respectively, for the 2012-13 season. Both teams scored a number of top-five finishes at competitions in Park City and Calgary, Canada, with the highlight being a four-man gold in a Calgary race in November.
“When I was a kid, I thought bobsled would be pretty cool,” Kongela says, “but in the same way I thought being an astronaut would be pretty cool.”
Kongela won’t be launching into space anytime soon, but that other “cool” dream – racing down an icy track at 80 mph – is very much a reality.