Possibly the greatest brakeman in GB’s history, ‘Mr Bobsleigh’ himself has given us a fascinating insight to his career, his brush with death and finding Olympic success 5 and a half years after he and his crewmates earned it. Settle in for this one he's a talker...
Credit: Bruce Tasker (via whatever unpaid photographer's watermark that is)
TBM: Big Brucey, thanks for speaking to us. And thank you for giving me more stuff to transcribe than any of the other athletes did. I really enjoyed sifting through it all.
Tell us about your background, how'd you get into bobsleigh?
BT: Ok, so I began training for athletics as a 13 year old after being spotted at one of those old county sports days. I went to Bath University when I got older and trained in a world class athletics group with the likes of Jason Gardener (GB Olympic Gold Medallist 100m relay).
I primarily trained in 200m and 400m and was moderately successful I suppose! I was indoor 400m U20 national champion 3 years in a row.
I got to know Jacko (pilot John Jackson, Olympic bronze medallist), through this time. He had spotted that I was bigger than most sprinters and he tried to recruit me for bobsleigh on a number of occasions.
"I actually declined him for a good 18 months"
At the time the sport was unfunded and it didn’t suit my lifestyle, I was working in pubs and restaurants to fund my athletic career.
Fast forward and certain things had changed for me. I’d stopped athletics after realising I wasn’t going to make it pro and had a lot more free time. It was during this period that Jacko got in touch again to come to a testing day, and I thought, ‘why not?’.
I happened to have that particular day off work so I went to the Bath Uni push track to test. I remember it was a miserable day, cold and wet with soggy leaves everywhere. It took hours trying to get the technique right, but after a few tests I thought it went pretty well.
I was actually on a weekend away with my partner, Kat, when I got the call from Gary Anderson (former GB performance director), to see if I could go to a race in Italy the following week. I managed to get the week off work and went for it.
In Cesana, Italy, I remember being really keen and asking all sorts of questions about the next track on the circuit and getting a bit ahead of myself. Jacko had to calm me down and remind me that I hadn’t done it yet and we had to see if I even liked it.
"I knew I was going to love it though"
After hopping in the sled for the first time, I never looked back.
A few months later and I was at my first World Championships. So I really, literally, dove into bobsleigh headfirst which suited me down to the ground. I’ve loved it ever since.
A youthful Bruce Tasker in his thug life sprinting days
TBM: You called time on your career in 2018 after a serious health issue, tell us about that time:
BT: Yeah, so building up to Korea, I wanted to go as a pilot after having been a brakeman at Sochi. It was a really exciting prospect and the new adventure of potentially getting a medal in the front seat was hugely attractive.
A couple of us were picked for the ADP (GB’s Accelerated Driver Programme), myself, Ben Simons and Brad Hall. All was going really well, we were getting better with every season. We had a really short time-frame to target a medal at an Olympic Games, but that was the plan.
"Sadly after a strong start, about two seasons out from the Games it felt like the wheels came off"
The BBSA had bad press, all sorts of allegations flying around, team morale was rock bottom and there was a fair bit of tension. Not optimal environments for elite performance.
I lost my sled Olympic year too. It was a rented sled from the Swiss programme and, unbeknownst to me, was due back before the Games.
The management who recruited me then left, along with the coach who had taught me to drive and was an influential figure in my career up to that point. Olympic year was supposed to be about building confidence for the Games and ended up being a desperate attempt just to qualify.
I struggled getting to grips with the new sleds and my results were hugely affected. It was crazy, I was now looking at not qualifying for the Games at all. For what the ADP programme set out to do, we were seriously off-pace. The whole thing felt like it was crumbling.
Add to that, I suffered a really bad adductor tear in training, with limited opportunity to get better.
The BBSA took the decision to allow me to stay home after Christmas 2017 for intense rehab at Bisham Abbey (national rehab centre), with the intention of returning to the squad a couple weeks later.
TBM: This is where you ended up in hospital?
BT: Yep, whilst in this process, in the middle of the week, I got home after walking the dog and sat on my sofa to relax. All of a sudden I was overcome with extreme nausea and vertigo. I literally fell to my side on the sofa and it lasted about 10 seconds.
It was bizarre but it passed and I thought I was fine. Kat’s a doctor, and she was more concerned than I was at this point.
Sure enough, a few minutes later a much more severe episode brought me to the floor. I tried to lie on my back and stop the room spinning.
This was also when I started feeling my left arm tingling and my jaw stiffening up.
In hindsight, all the tell-tale signals were there.
This lasted a few minutes and we realised I needed to get to hospital. We managed to get me to the car, scrabbling along the wall for support, and Kat got me to A&E at Slough hospital.
I think the people in A&E thought I was just a rugby player with concussion or something as they made it clear they were too busy for me. Cue me vomiting all over A&E which got me seen quite quickly!
Eventually, after examination, they decided they didn’t know what was wrong and it was only at Kat’s insistence that they sent me for more scans. After this, I endured my third, and most horrendous, 12-hour episode.
I was up all night vomiting, then the following morning the staff came in and said,
“we’ve seen your results and, yep - you’ve had a stroke!”
TBM: Bloody hell.
BT: After diagnosis they gave me my medicine which, if you can believe it, was a tablet of aspirin! After all that, my treatment was a household pill.
Basically I had suffered an arterial dissection in the artery that feeds blood to the brain from the neck. Its inner wall had flapped away and caused a blood clot.
That was then the final nail for bobsleigh sadly. I had planned to retire that year anyway, but obviously I wanted a gold medal to sign off with - not a stroke.
Pleased to report that 6 months later Bruce was scanned and has been given a clean bill of health.
Bruce after his front seat transition
TBM: You had a phenomenal Olympic Games in Sochi 2014, but after the Russian crews were banned for doping, you were upgraded to bronze. How did it feel to receive your medal more than 5 years later?
BT: Sochi was an incredible Games. If I could touch on the build up to it, I used to be someone in athletics who was never in the frame for funding, yet in this sport I had found something that suited me so well.
"I was now an Olympic medal hope"
Things were gearing up brilliantly, we got better with every race, and then all of a sudden, everything was thrown in the air after Jacko (GB pilot John Jackson) ruptured his achilles tendon in the May of Olympic off-season training.
Well, we all thought there was no way there was going to be enough time for him to recover from this. But you can’t keep Jacko down. We actually owe all our Olympic success to his tenacity and fight. He got pioneering ankle/achilles surgery and while he recovered, we trained. As far as he was concerned he was going to be on that block when the winter season started.
Sure enough, he was. We started the season with him weak, but able to push. It all just added to the fairytale, here we were plucky underdogs, 8 year old sled and:
"a bunch of banged up athletic misfits who each fit perfectly into this crew."
As Sochi approached, we were firing on all cylinders and elected not to go to the opening ceremony and remain at our holding camp in Germany. We had worked with an amazing psychologist called Kate Goodger who helped us prepare mentally. I always say I think this preparation sort of took the shine off the Games for us, we really did treat it like any other race!
In the end, our 5th place felt like rich reward for everything we went through, we were actually really pleased with it! 11 hundredths away from winning bronze outright regardless of the doping scandals. We were delighted.
Not long after, the German broadcaster revealed the allegations of Russian doping. Over a period, it built and built until the evidence was too overwhelming. So, 5 and half years later, we were awarded the bronze medal after the bans of both Russia 1 and 2.
TBM: A bittersweet moment no?
It was bittersweet. Obviously you can never replace the moment. That moment you stand on that podium with millions of people watching at home can’t be replaced, nor the personal benefits or the doors that open to you as an Olympic medallist.
"Those doors don’t open 5 and a half years later"
The main thing I felt, was the loss to the sport. If we had that medal that would’ve put our programme on ‘A’ class funding and the sport could’ve continued on the upward curve we were on.
We had to rebuild though, we absolutely lost pace with the rest of the world and didn’t have the money spare to fund the kit and equipment we needed.
That was the real victim for me, the sport.
Team John Jackson: From left to right, Jacko, Stu Benson, Joel Fearon and big Bruce
TBM: The BBSA seem to be working hard to create legacy appointments in the GB programme, you've been taken on as a coach, talk to us about that.
BT: So I’ve been appointed one of the performance coaches in the cycle leading up to Beijing. I had a lot of experience with different world-class coaches and have a lot of knowledge I want to recycle into the programme.
"I think any time that experience in an Olympic or world-class context is lost to the ether, it’s an opportunity missed"
The BBSA is looking to set an example with this sort of legacy appointment to help keep that knowledge in the programme to develop the next cohort of elite British bobsledders.
Hopefully I can help the next generation fast-track to success by learning from the mistakes that I made.
On way to Park City, USA World Cup medal glory with Brad Hall, TBM and Joel Fearon
TBM: You're potentially going to be in Beijing as a coach, is that an exciting prospect?
BT: I’m so excited. I never envisaged myself being there as an athlete so being there in any capacity is great.
My body was telling me it was time to stop, 8 years is a long stint in this sport. I am more than happy to be there as a coach.
There’s also huge opportunity in our programme right now. We have experienced pilots, world-class athletes, and for the first time, competitive kit.
I feel like we always used to tick 1 or 2 out of the 3 boxes for bobsleigh but now I feel like we’re in a position where we finally have the drive, the kit and the start.
Another two years of development with some of the new lads and ladies we have too will also hopefully yield something really exciting in Beijing.
2017 GB Crew Of The Year at the Pyeongchang Olympic Test Event
TBM: Thanks Bruce, to round off, please answer me this:
Would you rather be forcibly Siamese-twinned with me or Brad Hall for the rest of your life?
BT: God that’s a tough one! Oh shit. Just to be clear, this isn’t like a human centipede situation?
TBM: No no no, you’re sewn together at the head.
BT: Well let’s weigh up the pros and cons.
For you, we both love good food. Brad only ingests protein powders.
So that’s hugely attractive that we could just go to great restaurants and eat lots of tasty stuff.
However, the con with you is that you spend a lot of time in the toilet and I do worry about being stuck to you whilst you’re taking 45 minutes to poo.
We’d need a special armchair next to the toilet so I could read a book or something.
Then again, I suppose I always say I need more time to read, so I guess I’d pick you.
TBM: That’s all I wanted, cheers.
You can keep following Bruce's journey via his Twitter and Instagram accounts that he always uses:
No idea what lay ahead of them: Team John Jackson on their way to British Olympic immortality