PSA Clients Go Everywhere — Even the Sochi Olympics

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This year’s U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Team heads into the Sochi Winter Olympics with perhaps its best chance ever of bringing home numerous medals. Local business leader and PSA client Ted Offit – who serves on the Board of Directors for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) – gives us an insider’s preview of what to expect from the high-speed events.

The U.S. heads into the Olympics ranked number one in men’s two-man bobsled, says Offit, who will be in Sochi for the games. The red, white, and blue also hold top-four spots in men’s four-man, women’s two-man, men’s skeleton, and women’s skeleton.

Offit, Managing Principal at Offit Kurman Attorneys At Law, joined the USBSF as part of a full-scale turnaround at the organization in 2007. Since then, he’s helped oversee a resurgence in American bobsled and skeleton racing. In Vancouver (2010), the team brought home one gold and one bronze, after winning just one medal in 2006. This year, with sleds built by new title sponsor BMW, the hopes for the U.S. contingent are even higher.

The U.S. Olympic Committee issues grants for athletes from all sports to travel to the games. But in a smaller sport like bobsled, coming up with funding for all the peripherals (like travel, lodgings, and equipment for competition on the World Cup circuit or the lower-tier developmental circuits, plus trainers, doctors, and specialized coaches) can be a tall order.

“Our challenge at the board level is to raise funds by individual donation or to find sponsors who are willing to support the movement,” Offit says, noting that Under Armour is another big supporter of the bobsled team.

In December, the USBSF held a Washington, D.C. fundraiser to support its largely self-funded athletes. The event, which included an auction for, among other things, the chance to actually ride in a bobsled, brought in $250,000 for an organization that, according to the Washington Post, spent about $500,000 in 2013 to ship its sleds around Europe for various competitions.

Sledding, Offit explains, is a lot like NASCAR: each track around the world is a little bit different, and, for all the focus on the athletes, a similar amount of effort goes into engineering the sleds themselves for optimum performance. “It’s as much about technology and machinery as it is about the athletes,” he says. If and when the U.S. brings home medals this year, Offit says, don’t be surprised if you see BMW advertisements touting the company’s role in engineering the world’s fastest sled.

This will be Offit’s second Olympics as a board member and he is looking forward to his trip to Sochi. “I’ll be a spectator,” he says. “All of my work was pre-Olympics.”

So how did a successful business lawyer from Baltimore get involved in bobsledding? It’s simple, really. A client of Offit’s had retired to Park City Utah and was volunteering with the U.S. team there (the U.S. has just two official bobsled tracks, in Park City and Lake Placid). When the U.S. Olympic Committee decided to restructure at the USBSF, the volunteer put Offit’s name in as a candidate for the new board. After an interview with the Olympic committee, Offit – an expert in business transactions, governance, and non-profits – was brought on.

“I had absolutely no background with bobsled and skeleton,” Offit says.

But these days, Offit has a pretty good idea what running the track feels like. A recent USBSF outing in Park City saw the University of Baltimore law school grad take another heart-pounding trip down the bobsled track. There was no running start, and Offit was just a passenger, but the sled, piloted by a professional, still reached speeds in excess of 80 mph. Offit also tried out skeleton. (If you’re trying to picture skeleton, think this: one person on a sled rocketing downhill head first.) For his run, to keep things reasonable, Offit only ran the bottom six turns of the track.

Asked to describe his bobsled experience in one word, Offit put it this way: “violent.” Getting knocked around in the cramped sled at high speeds and bracing yourself against intense g-forces really is an athletic endeavor, he notes. For the sport’s top athletes, there is the constant added element of serious danger in a sport that regularly clocks speeds in excess of 80 mph.

Indeed, as athletes in one of the many Olympic sports that only gets international exposure every four years, bobsled and skeleton racers are a rare breed. “I’ve found the Olympic athletes to be an incredibly dedicated group of individuals,” Offit says. “They do it for a personal passion and also for the privilege of being able to represent their country.”

The unexpected foray into the Olympic movement has been an interesting journey for Offit, too, who notes: “It has opened doors for me. I’ve met people in all walks of life whom I never would have met.”

The Winter Olympics began on February 7 and continue through Friday, February 23. Skeleton races start February 13, and bobsled starts Sunday, February 16.

Learn more about the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Team here, and more about Ted Offit and Offit Kurman here.