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Alex Kopacz. Olympic Champion And Possibly The Most Educated Man In Bobsleigh.

Before our conversation, I’ve been sitting in my living room at home, in Covid isolation, and I am thinking about what the hell I’m going to ask Alex. This guy is very smart.

I know I want to hear all about his journey into bobsleigh, the experience of winning Gold at the Olympics, hosting Ted Talks, two degrees and the obvious difficulty he’s going to have finding a job with such a lousy CV. But I also want to make fart jokes.

So what does this frankly over-qualified behemoth make of life pre, during and post sliding? Let’s see...

Credit: Alex Kopacz

TBM: Mr Kopacz, we meet again. Good to talk to you my friend. Thank you for giving us your time! You are officially one of The Brake’s very first interviews which I know you’ll agree is probably your greatest achievement.

Tell us about how you got into bobsleigh.

AK: So I got pulled into Track and Field in my third year of university. A discus thrower who trained there basically collared me and said, “you’re gonna be a thrower now” and I said “ok!”.

I would finish throws training and then race the sprinters for fun and found I could whup them all! I think one race I ran a 60m in 7.2 seconds at 280lbs with horrendous technique and all that, so people took notice and tried to pull me into other sports.

I had the NFL floated to me and I started to think a little bigger, before one of the coaches who did a bit of bobsleigh for Team Canada once upon a time, asked me if I wanted to try it out.

Through that avenue I could potentially find myself on a team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. From there my eyes widened a lot and I started to believe that maybe I could be an athlete after all, not just a bookworm at uni.

Credit: Alex Kopacz

TBM: What was your initial experience of bobsleigh?

AK: I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was! A few pushes in the ice house and I was totally mentally and physically tapped. You just don’t anticipate the effects of the overspeed and it totally hit me later.

My first run down a track was with Nick (Poloniato), and I was expecting it to be like a rollercoaster. I love rollercoasters so was looking forward to it.

Around corner 4 though, I realised that my shoulders were sticking way out and I was suddenly struck by how unsafe the whole thing was! It got real fast, real quick.

Credit: Alex Kopacz

TBM: Tell us about Pyeongchang 2018, what was it like winning gold?

AK: Pyeongchang, for so many reasons, was special. You could read about as many Olympic experiences as you like, my coach told me all sorts of strategies for how to manage myself, but actually getting there was a different ball-game.

I was so tempted to enjoy all it had to offer. You know, there were so many booths and stands, trying to speak to as many different nations as possible, there were haircuts, dentist appointments. You name it, you could get it!

We were warned not to go chasing too much free stuff and there was that promotion that Beats headphones did. I totally missed out on that deal though!

But I basically threw myself into a pool of music. Every time I walked around the Village I had headphones on, (a pretty common sight), and just did my best to manage my excitement levels.

Competing there was unbelievable. We were all there the year before at the test event which was great fun. The track itself was interesting but I found the competition electric.

Some people say “Oh it’s just another World Cup”, but it definitely felt heavier to me.

Having said that, you don’t want to get too fancy at the Games, and you just try to replicate what you’ve been doing all season.

There were some dramas, I had an accidental haematoma from a needling incident in my VMO (quad muscle) and some other issues. But these things are just part of it. You’re at the Olympics now and you just gotta keep going. No matter what.

Winning Gold was incredible though. It was surreal knowing we’d tied. Normally in bobsled, you get to the bottom of the run and look up at the scoreboard to see your finish number. You see that number 1 and you think, ‘great, we got it’.

Sinking in that we’d tied just made it all the more special. Just one tiny error here or there and we would’ve lost it all.

The most touching moment for me was actually some of the US bobsled team who were at the bottom of the track, ushering my parents through security!

I didn’t realise my parents hadn’t had anywhere to sit, and I think it was Chris Kinney of the US who recognised my dad (we look alike), and made sure they got through to celebrate with me. The last thing they expected was for me to make a Games, let alone win the thing!

Credit: Alex Kopacz

TBM: What have you done since? How has bobsleigh affected your life?

AK: Winning an Olympic gold medal is obviously a huge physical achievement, and you get great global recognition. It was pretty intense riding the wave of that. People might be surprised to hear but I’m actually quite an introvert, however I found being thrown into the public space brought extroversion out of me and I really enjoyed it!

The Ted Talk thing came from them reaching out to me and asking if I would do it. I said, “of course!”, I was very much in the mindset of not wanting to turn down any opportunity and saying yes to as much as I could.

Doing more corporate stuff, you get a feel for what you want to say and how you want to say it etc. But with Ted, they want you to stick to a topic, memorise a 15-20 minute speech verbatim (that they have to approve) and deliver it with no teleprompter or any other help!

It’s then on YouTube forever unless you ask for it to be taken down!

My topic was on ‘momentum’. The physics nerd in me thought this was great, and I could lean on bobsleigh for context, with it essentially being a physics sport. I used it to apply concepts of running at obstacles in life.

You know, if you’re stuck in a mindless loop of inaction, whether that’s being bedridden or depressed etc, how do you find that strength to pick yourself up and start creating momentum in your life?

It was a hell of an experience overall and was generally well received I think! It definitely legitimised my ability as a public speaker, and I do now find myself addicted to high risk scenarios like these.

It’s funny I spent my life pre-sport preparing myself for a job in an office, and now, I couldn’t think of anything worse. If it’s not a high risk situation, I’m not really interested!

Credit: Alex Kopacz

TBM: Any comebacks on the horizon?

AK: I get inundated with questions like these, “are you gonna go back and try to win another gold?”. But motivation in this perspective is pretty hard. We won gold so how do we improve upon that? It’s done, it’s locked in.

There’s also the health aspect. I absolutely pushed myself to the edge preparing for those Games and I’m still a few surgeries away from being good to go.

I know some athletes parachute in Olympic year, you know and now I’ve finished my schooling I guess I’d consider it, if at the time I was physically capable.

I guess there’s kind of a fantasy there but I’m unsure if I’d be able to.

Credit: Alex Kopacz

TBM: Would you be interested in playing any other supporting role in the build up to the next Games?

AK: Well there’s a season for all things, but I would love to remain involved in sport - and I am I suppose - I coach a couple athletes privately.

I’d definitely be interested in mentoring athletes going through the process but I suppose it would only work if philosophies were agreed upon. My way was very different and it might be tricky trying to mesh that with a national team’s views.

Put it this way, for the greater bobsleigh community I would very much be up for sharing tips and tricks on mental performance and preparation, should it be required.

The family of bobsleigh is what I’d come back for, I miss that energy and all the friendly faces.

TBM: Awesome, thanks Alex. To finish, I would like to know, would you rather: be a genius who no-one believes, or an idiot who everybody takes at their word?

AK: Well I am by no means making claims to be a genius but I certainly remember the feeling of being frustrated so I think I’d prefer to be a widely believed idiot!


And you can follow dumb Alex’s continued journey here: @alexanderkopacz

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