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]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.

"You become closer to the athletes that way because they appreciate you trying what they do," Craighead said. "I've always believed trainers should experience the sports they are working. You'll have a better understand of why the injuries occur."

That was a major chunk of cachet Craighead acquired.

"I am also upfront and honest with the athletes and the coaches," Craighead said. "To tell a lie, because that's what someone wants to hear, that lie is only good for the present. It will catch up to you and you will lose all credibility. And then no one will have faith in you."

And then there is Craighead's style of massage.

"I don't give frou-frou massages," he said. "When I work the soft tissue, I want to achieve results for the athlete. I used to have a vise grip. When I would massage an athlete for the first time, I'd tape two tongue depressors together and ask the athlete to put it in his mouth. They'd ask why. I'd say, &‘Because I don't want you to chip a tooth when I start massaging you.' Every once in a while someone would laugh. So I'd start and they would be screaming for the tongue depressors in a few seconds."

Craighead is not shy about it, not at all: "I'm an enthusiastic, passionate guy."

Passion is contagious, energizing ... and this is how passionate Craighead is. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger met with the 21-person U.S. bobsled team after the Opening Ceremonies and, as gossiping would have it, Arnold approached Craighead and asked if it was true, that Craighead indeed had gone down a run on a two-man and a four-man and a skeleton.

"Yes, I have," Craighead said, "and you should, too, governor."

And with that, Craighead gave Arnold one of his typically classic slaps on the back, which feels more like a horse kicking you (I asked Byron for a sample and he gave one). Craighead didn't think for a moment that it might stun Arnold, the governor having once been Mister All-World Universe Big Bulging Biceps.

Arnold stumbled forward, groaned, a look of shock on his face, like he just got hit in the back by Ronnie Lott.

"You should have seen all the security personnel come forward," Craighead said.

So, yes, the USOC remembered Evel Knievel all right. He was the passionate, honest guy who knew the physical demands the sliding sports can place on a body. They knew Evel would show up early to work — 6 a.m. — and stay late — leave the training room at midnight. They knew he knew his job and they knew this time he could afford to take two months without pay.

The USOC knew Craighead was worth pursuing, and Frank Briglia knew that as well. Briglia helped build America's bobsleds and, befitting such an important role, he earned the valuable "walking pass" that would allow him to walk in with the entire U.S. Olympic team at the Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver.

Briglia gave his pass to Craighead.

"It brought tears to my eyes, what he did," Craighead said. "It still does."

Craighead was teary again when Steve Holcomb piloted that four-man sled to the gold. Holcomb and Craighead had become pals. An avalanche blocked a U.S. sled convoy once in Switzerland. Holcomb, Craighead and the rest of the team were in front of the avalanche and the sleds were stranded behind them in the snow.

While the road was cleared Holcomb convinced him to grab a pair of skis and let's ski down the mountain while we're waiting.

"Yes, I guess you're right, it was like I was in that sled that won the gold," said Craighead, who played wide receiver for the Humboldt State football team. "I really care about those guys."

Sometime in April, Craighead will receive "The Participants Ring" and it will be exactly the same ring every athlete at the Olympics receives. The only difference — Craighead doesn't have a gold medal hanging around his neck.

"I did wear one," said Craighead of the gold medal lent to him by one of the four men in the U.S. bobsled team.

"For about as long as it took to take the picture," he said.

Craighead, or someone Craighead trusted with his camera, took 672 pictures of his Vancouver Olympic experience. Picture No. 673 will be taken in April sometime: Byron Craighead wearing his ring. The ring will be big, Craighead predicts. His smile will be bigger, I predict.

For more on North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com

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