It?s called ?The Participants Ring? and once it arrives, it will have Byron Craighead?s last name on it, the image of his sport (bobsled), the five Olympic rings, the host city?s name ?Vancouver? and the year, 2010. It will have diamonds. Craighead is not sure how many, and he is sure he doesn?t mind.
The ring could have inlaid black walnuts, for all Craighead cares.
The ring is not be just a piece of jewelry. It is Craighead?s scrapbook, representing not only where?s he?s been for the last three weeks but for the last 39 years. All Craighead needs to do is rub it, like Aladdin?s Lamp, and presto, like the genie, all the memories suddenly will appear, all of them leading up to his most recent one ? being the trainer for the U.S. women?s and men?s Olympic bobsledders, standing there at the finish line watch the four-man team win its first gold in that event in 62 years.
?For them to ask me back, for them to trust me enough...? Craighead?s voice softens.
The USOC is not known for being warm and fuzzy after someone declines an offer. Yet Craighead did just that in 2006. Craighead said no thanks, he just couldn?t take two months off from his teaching at SRJC to be the U.S. bobsled trainer at the 2006 Turin Winter Games. He had done it in 2002, to be America?s bobsled trainer at the Salt Lake Games, and Craighead didn?t want to put the school, the students and the substitute teachers through that chaos again.
But Craighead retired in 2007. The USOC came back to him again and Craighead came back to them again with the same kind of response that he had in 2002.
?I?ll give you one of my earlobes for the chance,? said the Santa Rosa resident.
Why would USOC pursue Craighead? A number of reasons explain it, but none more colorfully than the story behind Craighead being called ?Evel Knievel? after the famous motorcycle daredevil.
?I?m the only U.S. medical person to have ever done the two-man, four-man and skeleton,? he said.
As he explained his first ride, one can understand why he is the only American medical person to have experienced all three disciplines. The year was 1993. Craighead was with the U.S. team at the Europa Cup ? a preamble to the World Championships ? in La Plagne, France.
?I saw this two-man team make a run,? Craighead said, ?and as they got out of the sled, they were having a hard time breathing. I teased them, ?Why are you breathing so hard? You just came down the mountain. I wouldn?t be that out of breath if I walked up to it.??
Why don?t you try it, Mister Tough Guy? Sure, Craighead said. ?I?m not a very good spectator,? he said. And so he went down and never will forget it.
?I don?t remember anything after Turn Five,? Craighead said. ?I think I passed out. I must have passed out. The 5-G force made it impossible for you to catch your breath and it pulls the snot right out of your nose.?
Craighead followed that with a ride in a four-man sled and then on the single-person skeleton. That?s when he became known as Evel Knievel. And it wasn?t his intention at the time but his derring-do made an impression.