Jennifer Onasanya. Dutch-Austrian Javelin Thrower Turned Bobsledder
Jenny Onasanya made a successful switch from throwing javelins to pushing bobsleighs at the top level. Her journey has been an emotional one and she's not finished yet...
Credit: Rekords IBSF
TBM: Hey Jenny! Thanks a lot for giving us your time. Let's get straight into it, tell us about your sporting background and how you found your way into bobsleigh...
JO: Ooh ok that’s a long story. I started sport in track and field where I competed in javelin. My friend Karlien Sleper (Dutch monobob pilot), was the one who got me involved in this whole bobsledding thing! We used to compete against each other in javelin and she said I was strong and tough so maybe come and try bobsleigh.
She mentioned that Kati Beierl (Austrian bob pilot) was coming over to the Netherlands to train and would I like to go and train with them? I did, and basically never left! It’s been awesome ever since. The sport is insane, you know, the speed and the power - I just love it.
Kati asked me to come over to Austria to train where I had my first proper bob pushes on the push track in Igls, Innsbruck. After that, I had push selections in Berchtesgaden (Koniggssee), and it kind of rolled on from there.
Kati sat on Jenny's hand in this pic. Or she's celebrating. You decide
TBM: So you are Dutch but compete for Austria?
JO: Yes, well when I first started, Karlien actually tried to get me to slide for the Dutch as they were trying to set up a new team. So yeah, my first time sliding was actually as a pilot! I hadn’t actually pushed at this point, I just drove in Lillehammer, Norway, with another girl.
Sorry yeah, so I guess the career sort of started there. But anyway, after those first few runs I crashed like sh**! I was like - ‘I’m out!’. We started with 2-man, me driving and the other girl in the back and I was just pulling on the D-rings, trying to steer and not knowing what I was doing! I thought, ‘I don’t like this, I’m not going to keep doing this.’
Then we went sliding in Winterberg and crashed even more there so we all stopped! Then Karlien mentioned about Austria as a brake athlete so now it’s been 4 years of pushing for them.
Getting ready for racing
TBM: We know you work a lot harder than the average professional athlete, tell us about your job...
JO: I’m a social worker, working with young adults who are mentally disabled. They have a lot of aggression issues and all live at this house that I work at. That’s my full-time job but I normally work even longer hours. I’m contracted to 36 hours but usually do 40+.
That makes it pretty hard to combine training with it. Work is mentally and physically exhausting so even when I do get a chance to train it’s tough to work up the energy. But they are super supportive, I get 3 months off work in the winter to compete. They love the bobsleigh thing and just ask me to send the streaming links so they can watch me compete.
Medal fun in Calgary, Canada
TBM: Tell us your favourite thing about competing in bobsleigh?
JO: I love that everyone is super professional but nobody seems to dislike anyone! We’re all competing and want to be the best. But even when everyone is getting their game face on in warm up, people will still goof with each other or do little handshakes and just show that camaraderie.
That part for me is the most important, everyone is super competitive but also good friends still. I mean, in track and field you just hate your rivals and want to beat them so bad and it's just not as positive a vibe as there is in bobsleigh.
TBM: So I thought you were in Pyeongchang for the 2018 Olympics but of course that was the 2017 test event! That must have been really hard to not be part of the Olympic team?
JO: So I couldn’t go to Pyeongchang which was crazy tough because I helped to qualify both the sleds that competed! Kati and Christina Hengster.
Watching the opening ceremony at home was just horrible, I cried. I should’ve been there. We tried to get citizenship sorted for 2018 but it was just too quick a turnaround.
TBM: That's rough, is there a plan for Beijing?
JO: Yes there is a plan for Bejing 2022! We are busy changing nationalities right now, there’s one form left I need to sort in the Netherlands. Once that’s done they give it to the Austrian government and basically say, ‘this is Jenny, she wants to be Austrian.’
Hopefully they say, ‘cool!’ haha. So yes, big things are coming for me and I will hopefully be able to go to the Games for Austria.
TBM: We've no doubt we'll see you there and we can all party together when it's finished! Now, the important bit - would you rather have no front teeth or no eyebrows?
JO: Oh no eyebrows definitely.
TBM: You can't draw them on!
JO: Oh noooo. Oh actually I don't know. I don't like this one! Um umm. Ok then, still no eyebrows i think.
TBM: No front teeth is great for drinking milkshakes...
JO: Oh shoot now you're making it hard - the milkshake thing is making me think! Ok, no I would rather have... no front teeth - final answer!
You can follow gap-toothed Jenny on her Olympic journey via her Instagram here
Check out Jenny's supportive employers here