Saturday, February 23, 2002
Bobsledders try to ease Jovanovic's pain
By Anne Marie Cruz
ESPN The Magazine
PARK CITY, Utah -- While Todd Hays whooped it up with Garrett Hines, Bill Schuffenhauer and Randy Jones at the Bear Hollow track, having just obliterated almost five decades of American bobsledding agony, Pavle Jovanovic sat alone at his computer 3,000 miles away.
Sheltered from the skin-shattering winds and wet snow pelting his close friends, Jovanovic was warm and dry but tortured in the seclusion of his Toms River, N.J., home.
Only a month ago, Jovanovic planned to be part of Saturday's four-man ride, helping years of United States futility turn into American unity, standing with Hays and Brian Shimer and their crews bounding onto the medals stand, waving their silvers and bronzes.
But after testing positive for steroid 19-norandrosterone at the trials, Jovanovic received a two-year suspension by the IOC. Gone was his Olympic berth, and in its place, raw, vicious heartbreak.
While Hays and Shimer rid the country of its longstanding drought, Jovanovic sat alone, coping with his own swamp of aborted dreams and ugly disappointment. Unable to muster the energy to watch the TV, with its endless stream of insidious Olympic images, Jovanovic still could not divorce himself entirely from the Games. He had gone through too much with Hays.
So this evening, Jovanovic logged onto the Web for the final two runs, monitoring the push times and the finish times. He needed no streaming video, no photos, no weather updates and no play-by-play. Only cold, hard stats.
"I'm a little shocked at the way things turned out," said Jovanovic, speaking on his cell phone. "Shimer just moved up out of nowhere. But I'm not surprised that they finished 2-3. I'm so proud of them."
Even long distance, all the protests at the Games have affected him.
"Every time I see the images of controversy with the figure skaters and the speedskaters, I'm constantly haunted by the feeling that I was wronged," Jovanovic said. "I feel threatened all over again and I want to backlash, so I can't allow myself to look at the TV. Can you hold on a second?"
His home phone was ringing. It was Hays with the news.
"Congratulations, buddy!" Jovanovic shouted into the phone, trying gamely to mask his own crushing disappointment. "I know you did it - I've seen it on the Internet. How was the drive, buddy? I could see from the start times that there was snow on the ice. I'm really happy for you and Brian and the rest of the boys."
Then Randy Jones got on the line.
"Thanks, man, I really appreciate that, Randy," Jovanovic continued. "You did it with all that pressure. That's big-time." Then a pause. "Yeah, I wish I could've been there, too, Randy. Thanks for calling. You guys take care of yourselves."
When he got back on his cell phone, his voice wavered.
"I, in a sense, was part of their victory," said Jovanovic, choking back his emotions. "Even without me there, I've always been an influence on them through my dedication and desire to win. The only thing I can say is that it's disappointing that I have to sit home at my house in New Jersey and watch it on my computer."
Throughout the Games, Hays, Hines and Jones have been adamantly defending Jovanovic, supporting his contention he unintentionally ingested the steroid through a supplement given to him by a nutritionist.
During a press conference two weeks ago, Hays went ballistic. He dumped a backpack full of PowerBars and POWERade onto a table and fumed about the irresponsibility of the IOC and the USOC, staunchly proclaiming Jovanovic's innocence. The USOC backs the decision, however, saying the amount of 19-norandrosterone in Jovanovic was six times the maximum limit.
All week long, Hines and several other friends and athletes, wore black knit caps that read "Pavle."
Was he aware of this?
"Oh yeah, I know about that," Jovanovic said, brightening. "When I read that on the Internet, I was pretty amazed. I've known the guys for five years, and we've all been good friends from the get-go. But with all the focus and preparation that goes into Olympics, I'd never think that they would take the time to think about me.
"It's one of the greatest things I've ever heard. They've stopped their entire day to ease a person's suffering." Jovanovic sighed. "It's a saddened calm that I feel."
In Utah, Hays and Shimer bum-rushed the track, mobbing their friends in a suffocating rush of euphoric victory, their spirits scaling the heights of the Wasatch Mountains.
Back in Toms River, Pavle Jovanovic hunched over a computer screen, watching dreams that were once his scroll by in a series of spat-out numbers, struggling with an overwhelming tangle of painful emotions, alone.
Anne Marie Cruz writes for ESPN The Magazine.