Sam Blanchet. Olympic Dreaming From England Rugby To GB Bobsleigh.
Interviewing this machine was an absolute pleasure. Getting close to my GB teammates, you often take their stories for granted and Sam has had a fantastic career that has yet to see its peak. Let's see what he had to say... (p.s awesome highlight reel at the bottom)
Terrible resolution photo credit: fully Sam Blanchet
TBM: Big Sam hello, tell us about your route into bobsleigh?
SB: Um, so initially I was playing rugby sevens for England. The year I left that setup was actually the year we had qualified for the Rio Olympic Games (2016). I had my heart set on becoming an Olympian there, I guess that’s where my Olympic dreaming started. Sadly though, I had a lot of injuries and the Head Coach at the time, Simon Amor, kindly let me go for a talent ID day at EIS (English Institute of Sport).
The outcome was that it recommended me for either rowing or bobsleigh. I plumped for bobsleigh where I made contact with the Head S&C coach at the time, Chris Woolley.
During this transition I had actually signed a last minute contract with Championship Rugby side Bedford Blues. I wanted to see if I could reignite the rugby fire which, to be honest, had faded quite a bit at this stage. My brother was there and I thought it was a good option.
After another fairly severe concussion though, I quickly realised I wanted to pursue the bobsleigh adventure.
I knew there were huge financial risks but I guess I had the romantic notion of the Olympic journey and the strife and hardship that comes with it. So I wasn’t put off!
I think we trialled similar times no?
TBM: Yeh I think I was July time in Birmingham.
That’s right I was August in London. But yeh, basically I got onto World Cup in the winter and everything kind of went from there.
Another terrible resolution photo credit: fully Sam Blanchet
TBM: Once you made it through the selection process, what were your first experiences of bobsleigh?
SB: Um, I guess my first experience of what bobsleigh was like was at the push track at Bath University. That was really fun.
My first on-ice experience was Oberhof in Germany, though. It’s a specialist luge track so the corners are all super tight and not at all designed for bobsleighs. One of the British coaches at the time said that the track worker there hated the fact bobsleds were tearing up his track; so he made it especially rough on purpose! Nice guy.
I had no frame of reference at this point though so I just thought 'this is bobsleigh'. We had 6 runs a day (editor note - that’s a lot!), and I was rattled like I’d been rapidly and repeatedly punched in the head.
I had broken my nose a lot playing rugby so was prone to nosebleeds. These became a regular feature of my Oberhof experience.
One of the other lads in the team got terrible concussions from that time too, I have to be honest I really didn’t enjoy that first experience!
This is decent so I'm nervous about crediting him: Sam Blanchet (right)
TBM: To be fair, you had a bad concussion history right? In your rugby days?
SB: I had flourished early on in my rugby career and had done really well in 7's. Every time I got a concussion, though, I was out for ages. My second game for Bedford I needed to take 2-3 months out and, to be honest with you, that pretty much sealed my exit from professional rugby.
I went for bobsleigh thinking it would be safer for my head.
Well it is! Rugby you play for 80 minutes getting smashed by enormous Samoans and you get lots of sub-concussive blows. Bobsleigh the runs are only a minute max and you get a helmet! That was my logic anyway.
Apart from a few isolated experiences I’ve generally been able to manage my concussion situation in bob.
Training runs at the Games, rubbish push position: Sam Blanchet
TBM: Tell us about your Olympic experience, you went as the reserve? I know this was frustrating for you.
SB: Yeah so I had had a great first season in bobsleigh. I had top 3 starts in the 2-man and obviously the 2017, 4-man test event in Pyeongchang went really well with us breaking a start record and finishing in the top 8.
But yeah after this, Olympic year was a nightmare for me. I suffered more injuries and the situation we found ourselves in with the media that summer of training had put me off the sport a lot.
TBM: Yeah that was a miserable time.
Then in training around October 2017, Bruce Tasker and I were involved in a really nasty crash in Whistler, Canada. I didn’t realise at the time that I’d broken my back.
Sam quickly adds his trademark Mike Tyson impression, ‘Sthpinal’.
So I trained through that without realising the severity of it and then discovered at the end of the year I had been training and competing on a broken shin all season.
So to sum up, I had missed most of the competitive year so was grateful to have made the Games in any capacity. Obviously a great aspect was that there’s the good guys I compete with and the chance I got to have the Olympic experience without the pressure. I got to do a lot of 2-man runs and help and support the lads who were competing.
One thing I was surprised about was that I didn’t find the event that huge. I know that sounds weird but it gave me invaluable experience and sense of preparation for the next one.
It was amazing but yes obviously, as a competitor, it was super frustrating.
The positive I took out of it all though, was that it gave me a lot of hunger and fire for the next Games. For Beijing I’ll make sure I’m fit, healthy and my training is on point for success.
Dream team: Big Sam on the right of Big Glees
TBM: You've bounced back from a lot of significant injuries, how have you managed this? Lesser athletes would've quit.
SB: Um, you know, when I looked back and analysed my injury history I just thought, ‘am I just incredibly unlucky or am I somehow genetically predisposed for injury?’
I do think the thing that set off my injury list Olympic year was the Whistler crash. I started training and moving differently, I was doing lots of jumping that caused and exacerbated the shin issue.
The hip tear I had this year was largely to do with the amount of sliding we’d been doing, the freezing cold temperature and the fact that I had been on the block in the cold for ages during a track hold, (there had been a crash). Due to the previous shin injury, that side of my body was still really weak and due to me coming back late in the year, I hadn’t really had a chance to re-acclimate my body to the rigours of bobsleigh.
You know, but your readers won’t know that I was actually looking at making a rugby return after a few trial offers from English Premiership clubs. My body was ready for rugby, not bobsleigh. The two are very different prospects.
To sum up, I think it was just a series of really unfortunate events that caused all my injury problems. But your question about bouncing back I think literally just comes from deep self belief, deep belief in the team I’m competing with (yourself, Brad, Nick etc) and still that burning dream of competing at the Olympic Games. When it means this much, it doesn't go away.
Another terrible res photo of a beautiful place, braking in Koniggssee: Big Sam in the back
TBM: Tell us about your ambitions for Beijing 2022?
SB: Right now the options for 2-man are really strong with yourself, me and Nick. We’ll be competing for spots and that’ll raise the standard. Obviously a 2-man starting spot is in my sights.
For the 4-man, we can’t control winning medals but we can control how well we push.
For Beijing I want to be a part of the out and out top pushing crew which I believe we can be. Having the new lads in Taylor Lawrence and Luke Dawes coming through is really promising too. Competition is going to be tough and I can’t wait to get going.
TBM: Great stuff. Now we finish with the Would You Rather. So, Big Sam, in the media build up to Beijing: would you rather scream every word during a TV interview or whisper too quietly for anyone to hear in every radio interview?
SB: This is dumb are you really making ever