Bobsled: 2001 ND graduate competes in Olympics
By: NOAH AMSTADTER
Two weekends ago, the Notre Dame track and field team had just stepped off the bus and was checking into their hotel in Windsor, Canada, where they had a meet the next day.
As the athletes waited for their room assignments, somebody flipped on the television to watch the Opening Ceremonies for the Winter Olympics. The camera scanned the athletes, showing faces from countries spanning Nepal to Cameroon.
All of the sudden, a face from Hungary appeared on the screen, a face quite familiar to the Irish athletes.
It was Marton Gyulai, a 2001 Notre Dame graduate who competed in the sprints for the Irish the previous four seasons.
"The Opening Ceremonies were going on and for some reason they kind of zoomed in on Marton," Notre Dame sprint coach John Millar said. "That was kind of the talk of the meet for a little while there."
Gyulai, whose father and brother have both previously represented Hungary in the Olympics, is carrying on the family tradition as a member of his country's four-man bobsled team. Competition begins today at 5:30 p.m. EST at Utah's Olympic Park.
Gyulai's four-man team, which also includes Nicholas Frankl, Peter Pallai and Bertalan Pinter took first place at the America's Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15, 2001, edging out the Austrian, United States and Croatian teams.
Despite that success, Gyulai realizes the competition in Salt Lake City today will be far greater, so his expectations are realistic.
"Hungary does not have a realistic chance of winning a medal, not even to be in the top 10," Gyulai said through e-mail earlier this month, explaining his squad's limitations. "Even though we won an amateur race in Lake Placid, we are still a very young sport in Hungary. We finance most of the events and travel ourselves, which is not cheap as a new sled costs around $25,000. For this reason we do not have a sled but rent one at every competition."
In fact, bobsledding as a sport in Hungary is just 10 years old. Back then, two young men were looking for fun and decided to give the sport a try. The worst that could happen, they though, is that they would fun sliding down the hill at a speed of more than 90 miles per hour.
One of those men was Miklos Gyulai, Marton's older brother who went on to compete for Hungary in the four-man event in 1994, when the team placed 28th, and 1998, when the team placed 24th. The elder Gyulai also competed in the 4x100 meter relay in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
After watching all the fun that he was having, younger brother Marton wanted to try his hand at bobsledding as a child. But the rules stated that one cannot sit in a sled before the age of 18. By the time Marton was 18, he was already enrolled as a student at Notre Dame.
So when Marton returned home after graduation, his brother had an opportunity waiting. The younger Gyulai first sat in a sled this fall, an experience he will not soon forget.
"Initially, it was horrible," said Gyulai, who also worked as an RA in Knott Hall last year. "You are shoved into a very tiny spot, with carbon fiber walls on either side, no seats but a metal sheet that you sit on, nothing to really hold on to. You wear a helmet, a speed suit and a pair of spikes, someone behind you probably accidentally rested their spikes in your calf just because there is no space, and you are flying down an ice tunnel over 80 to 90 mph."
But Gyulai soon adjusted, and quickly found his way onto the national team.
"I no longer think about the problems there could be," Gyulai said. "I am no longer scared by the speed at which this thing flies, but enjoy the extreme situation and thrive on it."
If the team reaches its goal of improving on its prior 24th-place finish and makes the top 20, some of that success can be attributed to Gyulai's leadership and hard work, an attribute he showed often as a member of the track team at Notre Dame.
"Marton was a guy that came out and would do anything you asked him to do," Millar remembered. "I think he really liked being part of the team and part of a program. I think he had a really strong work ethic that people caught off of and saw what he would do."
Although Gyulai never approached his brother's Olympic numbers during his time at Notre Dame — he suffered a torn knee ligament during his freshman season — he did earn a monogram last fall, when he finished fifth in the 60-meters in an indoor dual meet against Michigan State and 13th in the 100-meters at Purdue's Boilermaker Open.
"He enjoyed the sport," said Millar, who has coached multiple Olympic athletes in his career, but only Gyulai in a sport other than track and field. "I think part of that is why he did the bobsledding. It's something that he enjoys doing I'm sure and obviously making the Olympics in that event, he must have shown some abilities in it as well. I'm sure you don't just walk out there and jump on the sled and all of the sudden become a bobsledder."
The Olympic experience has been interesting for Gyulai, who says he is enjoying the atmosphere in the Olympic Village.
"The town is nice, the people are great, you can really feel they made a huge effort here," he said. "The security is so-so. Some places it is extremely harsh, other places it is surprisingly low. However, I feel safe and enjoy it a whole lot. I don't think there will be any problems."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 22, 2002