Mercer track and field graduate assistant prepares for the 2026 Winter Olympics
Austin Hayes is currently a U.S. Olympic Developmental Athlete
A simple desire to compete again began the long journey for Mercer track and field graduate assistant Austin Hayes.
“January of 2021, the head coach of the cross country team Josh Hayman decided he wanted to be competitive again. He wanted to compete in a track meet unattached because he found out he’s having a kid, and once his kid was born, you know, priorities change. So seeing him workout again made me want to workout again,” Hayes said.
Hayes hurriedly went onto the Olympic website and chose a few summer and winter sports that his skill set could translate to easily, and believed bobsled could be his path to the
“You start off just trying out for a combine; anyone can do it. Just go out showcase your abilities. If you’re good enough, they will bring you out to a rookie camp. There at the rookie camp, if they like you, you’ll get an invite back to the training camp, like the one in Utah or New York, to see what you’re capable of going down the track,” he said.
Hayes was impressive at the combine and was invited to the rookie camp. However, he went into camp only knowing about bobsled, but once he got there, things changed.
“I went out to the rookie camp focused on bobsled, and I didn’t even know what skeleton was. I found out they’re also doing skeleton camp there as well, same as bobsled, so they said you can go out and try whatever you want, bobsled or skeleton. And I was like, well I’m here, I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity. So I went out to both,” he said.
After trying his hand at both events, Hayes felt his skill set worked best for skeleton. Once he settled into that specific race, the Olympic dream seemed achievable.
“I ended up winning the rookie camp push championships. Surprisingly, I was kind of astonished by it, but went on to get invited to the U.S. push championships and got a second-place finish there. And now, I’ve just been competing in training camps and trying to get prepared for whatever comes after this.”
Hayes is currently a developmental athlete for the U.S. Winter Olympic Team, meaning he will train with the team and continue to sharpen his skills for future Olympics and tournaments.
“Next Olympics for sure. 2026 in Milan, Italy. That’s the ultimate goal. I want to compete in every World Cup possible. I don’t want to just be competing in these things. I want to be winning and breaking records. I’m not content of just saying, you know I’m an Olympian, but I got last place. That’s not satisfactory to me,” he said.
Hayes will continue to work on his strength and conditioning here in Georgia but will be off to Utah and New York to train on some real courses throughout the coming years.