U.S. Olympic team officials like to say Pavle Jovanovic is one of the most feared brakemen on the World Cup bobsled circuit. With a pair of first place finishes in late 2004 and strong showings through 2005, they have good reason to tout him as one of the best and a likely participant at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.
Pavle Jovanovic, 27, was born and raised in Toms River, New Jersey. He began to climb into bobsleds competitively when he was 20 and quickly mastered the art of being the brakeman, the person who sits at the back of a four-man sled or who is the second member of the two-man version. The brakeman is crucial in getting the sled started, and stopping the sled after the run.
Weighing in at 100 kilograms and standing one meter 85 centimeters tall, Jovanovic made an ideal brakeman even though it was not his specific intention.
"I did not train all those years with one goal in mind. I did it because I loved it," he said. "I was naturally good at power lifting and running. And this is what I wanted to continue to be doing."
But instead of the sleds, it was his career that came to a screeching halt. And it happened at the worst possible time.
Just one month before the Olympic bobsled competition at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, Jovanovic tested positive for a steroid at the trials. Supported by his teammates, Jovanovic said he unintentionally ingested the steroid through a supplement given to him by a nutritionist.
The argument did not matter to the International Olympic Committee, which imposed a two-year ban against Jovanovic. His Olympic berth was suddenly gone, replaced by a hollow and piercing heartbreak.
As the U.S. team went on to break its 46-year drought in the event and earn a silver medal, Jovanovic recalls following the 2002 race on his computer thousands of kilometers away at home.
"I watched my team race in the Olympics," he recalled. "I had to determine whether or not I was going to make it back. And that was one of the hardest things."
Jovanovic spent his two years away from the sport immersed in studies at Rutgers University in his home state. He also was able to spend a lot of time with his father, which was not possible when he was training.
Now, he will have the chance to try to earn the Olympic medal he missed in 2002.
Pavle Jovanovic again has the passion for bobsled racing as he talks about pushing off at the top of the course.
"When it comes to loading into the sled, I think that that is something that only years and years of experience in high competitions, with crowds and years of training properly at high speeds, can really give you crisp, smooth look," he explained. "That is just timing and work over and over again in the whole offseason."
Jovanovic says precise teamwork is paramount in the fast sport where winners are separated from the rest by just thousandths of a second.
"As that timing approaches the best of circumstances where it is so crisp and clean, you get the smoothest acceleration," he added. "And from that point on, you are just trying to stay as smooth and as long and as bio-mechanically correct as you can from what your coaches have taught you all along."
His extensive experience and training helped earn American Pavle Jovanovic two golds and a silver medal during last season's bobsled World Cup.
And with two-man partner Todd Hays, Jovanovic has already won a silver and a bronze medal this season.
He is hoping to finally add an Olympic medal to that collection in February.