Track Coach Headed to Winter Olympics

Brett Willmott

SUNY Oneonta Cross Country/Track & Field Head Coach Brett Willmott will have a front-row seat for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as one of the coaches for the USA Skeleton team.

Willmott, who serves as a push coach and strength and conditioning coach, will leave Oneonta on Sunday and arrive in Seoul on Tuesday. He’ll be on-hand at the Olympic Village while the four USA skeleton athletes (two men and two women) complete their daily practice runs, hurling themselves headfirst down the narrow skeleton track on a sled that lacks an engine, brakes or seat belt and can reach speeds of more than 90 miles per hour.

Growing up near Buffalo, I used to sled in the backyard all the time. I never thought sliding down a hill would grow to be something competitive and would someday be an Olympic sport! This is a lot different than sledding in the backyard, though.

When the athletes take center stage to compete at the PyeongChang Sliding Center next Thursday and Friday, Willmott will be there to cheer them on. Men's medals will be awarded Feb. 16, and the women's medals will be awarded Feb. 17.

“It’s exciting,” said Willmott, who is in his second year at SUNY Oneonta. “Right now, I’m getting the team here at SUNY Oneonta all set, preparing the team for a meet at Cornell and tying up loose ends before I leave. Then it will be time to focus on the Olympics.”

A successful duo

Willmott trains one-on-one with skeleton team member John Daly, whom he met while coaching track at SUNY Plattsburgh and trained as Daly was selected to become an Olympian. The duo’s success allowed Willmott to be recruited to help train other athletes in the skeleton program at the Olympic training site in Lake Placid, where he has coached weight room biomechanics and starting techniques for the USA team since 2007.

“The men and women of skeleton are polished and have had a solid ‘quad’ of training,” he said. “I will expect their best performances come Thursday/Friday!”

From track & field to skeleton

Willmott’s journey to the PyeoungChang Olympics began at SUNY Plattsburgh 18 years ago, when he was approached by athlete Juleigh Walker, who was looking for help with her “springing” and weightlifting. Willmott, whose specialty was track and field, wasn’t familiar with the up-and-coming sport, but he became fascinated, learning all he could.

By the time skeleton was permanently added to the Olympic program for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Willmott had become a well-known coach for the sport, working with many athletes, and he had aligned himself with other coaches.

“They took notice in the Federation,” Willmott said. “That was pretty neat, being there for the beginning – I did feel somewhat like a pioneer in some ways.”

Since then, Willmott’s athletes have earned much success. One of his mentees, Jim Shea Jr., won the gold medal in the sport at the 2002 Games.

Willmott has even taken several runs of his own down the skeleton track.

“Growing up near Buffalo, I used to sled in the backyard all the time,” Willmott said. “I never thought sliding down a hill would grow to be something competitive and would someday be an Olympic sport! This is a lot different than sledding in the backyard, though.”