So, after taking a year's sabbatical, and returning slightly earlier than planned, I ended up being part of the best World Cup campaign of my short bobsleigh career so far. Having said that, what I gained from season 19/20 was bigger than medals.
Looking focused. Reality: praying that I don't let that poop I was holding out around Kreisel.
I got lucky this year. Really lucky. You don’t often hear that with bobsledders as everyone’s normal view is something along the lines of ‘for God’s sake why am I back here?’ ‘Oh God this hurts, I forgot how much this hurts.’ ‘I think Whistler forced poo into my pants again.’ etc.
noun: Fastest track in the world. You will hear commentator John Morgan call it the ‘super speedway’ at least 3,000,000 times during a race
But this season did not start as it meant to go on.
Our crew was having a nightmare before Christmas with injuries. I thought I’d be returning and linking back up with my good mate and Olympian colleague Sam Blanchet, ready to set the bob world alight again.
adjective: An individual who, after competing at an Olympic Games, ensures everyone knows about it. Characterised by strategically placed tattoos and letters after their name like they’re a fucking doctor. Relentless in pursuit of blue ticks
Sadly, Sam managed to rip a meaty part of his hip bone off during a Europe Cup in Altenberg. So the only paths of ours that crossed were flight paths and Team Hall had to brave the season without two of our strongest brakemen (Big Glees having been sent back to work).
Noun: Neanderthalic Brakeman. Can’t read. Exceptional push athlete. Will eat urinal cake if dared. Will mate for life with an Alan Toward
All was not lost though, the big man Alan Toward was here (shortly before his foot exploded) and our new lad Luke Dawes was learning the ropes quickly. I’ve told the story of our season as a crew in a long post that none of you have read already so I won’t dwell on all the injuries.
First run back.
My first run back in a sled in two years was a 2-man training run in gloriously grey Winterturd. I mean Winterturd. Berg. Winter - berg. Winterberg.
Noun: An affectionate alternate name for the charming (and totally not bleak) resort of Winterberg
After re-acclimating to the bump and smash of a bobsled run, (I’d gone soft, Winterberg’s pressures were folding me in half much to Mica McNeill’s amusement), Brad kindly decided to bin me off turn 16.
He lured me into the warm and fuzzy feeling of the final corner, moments from safety, I lifted my hands off the frame to go for the brakes, smile on my face, then pile-drived my shoulder and head into the wall.
noun: A word I will interchangeably use with bobsleigh to appease my North American friends
We sailed up the braking straight on our heads (my 2-man crash virginity forcefully taken), before the track workers were on hand to catch and laugh at us whilst helping avoid the death-reverse.
Verb: The post-crash reverse caused when track workers don’t bother to catch you. Loud and miserable. Will occur in Altenberg
That little spill not only ended my participation for the week, (I legit couldn’t lift my arm for 3 days), but also exacerbated issues Brad was dealing with at that time. Physical ones. Not his emotional issues. We all shoulder that burden.
After Christmas though, things seemed to look up. Despite having two new lads on the crew, one of whom had never bobsleighed, we were recording top 10 finishes in the 4-man and numerous podiums in the 2-man. It was looking like a record-breaking season, and thankfully it turned out to be.
noun: A platform in most arenas occupied by the top 3. In bobsleigh it means top 6. What a glorious sport
Brad and I made history in the 2-man for Great Britain, recording a best-ever silver medal (as far as I’m aware that is the case but will ignore you if you try to correct me.)
We had fantastic crew cohesion culminating with a best-ever World Champs 4-man finish (7th - just outside podium!) and it honestly became my most enjoyable season thus far.
As I said at the start of this though, the year was more important than just winning medals.
And before you all switch off, just bear with me.
I walked into this season with no burden of worrying about other sports. I could focus for the first time on being the best brakeman I could be. In the process, my eyes fully opened to how awesome the calibre of athletes is in this sport.
I had not made the most of my time in bobsleigh in my first years being involved. I was too insular, focused desperately on not ruining my sprint career through catastrophic injury, and also just trying to be the best teammate I could be for GB.
Of course I would speak to other nations, make friends, enjoy that professional respect that goes along with top athletes doing their thing. But I didn’t really get to know people from other nations like I should’ve done. Or at least I didn’t make the effort that I have this year.
It’s easy in these environments to stay focused within your nation and your crews - and if you’re a brakeman or woman reading this who doesn’t like to mix much with other nations, that’s no criticism, it’s your prerogative - but I wanted to make a point of branching out.
At the top level, our community owns literally some of the most exceptional athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure to compete against. Most also happen to be top people too. I’ve made some pretty solid friendships this year, people who offer support and kudos both in competition, and from afar when we’re in the off season. That sort of connection is important, especially at a time like this (Covid-19 global lockdown at time of writing). For all of us.
Thankfully most of them speak English too which is massively appreciated by the linguistically-challenged race of people that are the British. Although we do try. Sort of.
noun: will speak 4 words of your language before giving up and resorting to shouting and pointing. Poor immune systems. Complain a lot. Shocked when it’s cold
Proper shit before.
I was determined that I wouldn’t go back to bobsleigh and endure the unpleasantness that was there before. Certainly the GB team had an horrendous environment. I’m not going to go into the failings of the people involved at that time, both management and athletes (myself included).
But if I was going to give a couple more years of sacrifice to sport, if I was going to go back into the competitive cauldron and go for Olympic glory in Beijing, it had to be on new - and better - terms.
So basically I made a sort of covenant with myself, a bit like that Jim Carrey film. I promised I would not get sucked into any negativity, I would be open and friendly with everyone (whether they liked it or not), I would say yes to every opportunity (hence us singing Ed Sheeran to a track full of people in Latvia), I would not take any competition for granted and I would, above all else, enjoy myself. If I have two years left in sport, then, to me, this approach was non-negotiable.
Sport is amazing, it has contributed to my life immeasurably and I dread it ending.
When it does end for me though, as it inevitably will, I will use every ounce of the privilege I’ve been given to make the next adventure just as exciting. Setting up this platform is a part of that. Whether it succeeds or not, one of my goals is to bring bobsleigh and all the exceptional athletes it houses, to the masses. Maybe one day evolving to support lots of lesser-reported sports. You gotta start somewhere!
For now though, and once this crazy time of virus and infections passes, I can’t wait to get back into training, back onto the circuit and back competing with the best athletes in the world.
See you in the winter.
noun: Fast, powerful. Only says hello once you’ve been drunk together. Doesn’t wash hands