Here's a total season round-up for year 19/20. It's an epic so maybe take a few breaks along the way, have a wee, make some banana bread, wash your hands at some point. We won't be offended.
Back in November, our crew started work in Lillehammer, Norway, which proved to be an unbelievably difficult experience. A very badly maintained track, (one poor bastard tasked with over a mile of ice to be fair), and some new sleds and equipment that required getting used to.
Several concussions and a couple of crashes later, we found ourselves at race day - where we crashed again. So far, not so good. Luckily this was the early part of the season and a lower tier competition, important for gathering global ranking points, but unimportant in the scheme of things. Needless to say, we won't be returning.
Amid much applause and relief from the boys, we moved on to Altenberg, Germany - the site of this season's World Championships. At that early stage of the season it was a great opportunity to get some ice time on the track that, at the end of the year, would host the most important date of our competitive calendar. It is the most dangerous, difficult, high-octane track in the world and demands your respect. Brad drove it excellently and signs for the upcoming Europe Cup race were very good. Or so we thought. After a top 2 start, Brakeman Sam Blanchet injured his quad ruling him out of the second heat. Brad's season-long love affair with a bad back also began here and the decision was made to pull out of the race. Such is life self-funding and not having medical help.
This left us with no ranking points from any races for either the 2-man or 4-man, and now left us a man down as Sam had to fly home for scans and treatment.
One positive at this stage was, as we moved on to Winterberg to continue our early season preparations, Olympian and World Cup medallist Brakeman Greg Cackett (as you can tell I've repurposed this article), returned to the crew. In his first 2-man run back from an 18 month hiatus - they crashed. It was a gentle roll off the final corner but enough to burn and clobber his shoulder.
Not ideal. It also exacerbated Brad's back issues and the team were faced with a very difficult decision. There was a race that weekend plus next week's final pre-Xmas race in Koniggssee. The choices were:
1. Try and compete this week, knowing it could write the crew off totally?
2. Sack the Winterberg weekend and try to compete for now-crucial points at Koniggssee the week after (allowing a few days rest)?
3. Sack both and go home to rest, ready to be fit for World Cup duty in January.
Well, we plumped for option 2. And it turned out to be a mixed success.
MIXED FEELINGS IN KONIGGSSEE
Greg was given the 2-man opportunity (something he'd been previously overlooked for because of his light weight) and it proved a success. Two top-3 pushes in a 200kg sled (30kg heavier than everyone else's to make up the weight deficit), and a 6th place finish. Our first race of the season and our first podium.
After Friday's 2-man race there was a double 4-man competition over the weekend. On Saturday's race we suffered a further catastrophe as Brakeman Alan Toward fractured his metatarsal in the first heat. That left us unable to finish Saturday's race and, still, without a single ranking point to our name. Sunday's competition was either not going to happen or we were going to have to find a way to race.
"POINTS MEAN PRIZES"
So, by way of minor digression for the uninitiated, at each race, teams are seeded by global ranking or (in the case of bottom ranked crews) picked from a draw. In bobsleigh the fresher the ice, the faster the run, thus you want to go off as early as possible. Generally, to give lower ranked teams a fighting chance, the first 5 positions are picked out of a selection of the lowest ranked teams (the draw). We thought we were the lowest ranked as we hadn't raced all season. What we didn't realise at this stage was that to be entered for the draw you needed at least 1 ranking point! So we had to race, come hell or high water.
THREE MAN PUSH
So, for day 2, if you can believe it, we asked a friend to sit in the sled for us for the race. The crew of Luke Dawes, Greg and pilot Brad pushed and raced. We were not only a man down, the man we had asked to help us was sat in the sled, so an extra 85kg to push! It was an unbelievable effort that resulted in a 12th place finish. Plus, we weren't even the slowest start! After all the difficulty we had experienced, we pulled together and found a way to get points on the board. It was a pivotal moment for us.
SAM NOT RETURNING, CREW DECIMATED FROM 6 TO 3
After receiving news that Sam didn't have a minor quad tear, (it wasn't a tear at all, the big lump had someone kept the muscle intact and had, in fact, pulled a piece of his iliac crest apart, a nasty evulsion fracture requiring emergency surgery), we had to find a new crew member. At this stage the crew consisted of Greg, Brad and rookie member Luke Dawes. We had no other options for crew members and were faced with the very real prospect of going into the new year, and World Cup, with no 4-man crew.
INTRODUCING TAYLOR LAWRENCE
We had met Royal Marine, Taylor Lawrence, in Winterberg a couple of weeks prior. He pushed the Navy in the 2-man and was brand new to the sport. After Brad gave the green light, Greg contacted him and asked if he wanted to join us on season, on World Cup, pushing on the left handle. He proved himself a fearless and determined athlete and we were so impressed with his rapid improvement. Make no mistake, Taylor had never pushed or loaded into a 4-man sled, a tricky prospect for any level athlete, and had certainly not competed at the top level in sport before. We can't overemphasise just how crazy and unexpected it was that we went on to get the results that we did. Luke Dawes was a complete rookie too and stepped up in a big way to help the integration of someone even newer than him.
WORLD CUP - HERE COME THE RESULTS
The rookie crew's first outing on season was a double event in Winterberg.
"We weren't expecting anything."
We just wanted solid starts, everyone loading safely and some clean runs down the track. We smashed past those ambitions recording two top-10 results in our opening weekend. From pushing a 3 man crew just a couple of weeks previously and finishing 12th on a lower tier competition, to achieving two top-10s at the highest level was a sign of things to come.
Moving onto La Plagne, France and the 2-man successes continued. Brad and Greg finished 4th, a best-ever result for the pair and a best World Cup result for GB in decades. 4-man momentum also continued with a fantastic 8th place finish, our third 4-man top-10 in a row.
Igls, Austria came next. A nightmare of a track for brakemen as the braking straight is a death trap. It claimed several experienced crews this year. This was the site of our most bittersweet result of the season.
BRITISH HISTORY IN 2-MAN
Brad and Greg made history for GB in the 2-man, gatecrashing the Team Germany party (they finished 1st, 3rd and 4th), by taking a momentous silver medal. Sadly for the boys in the 4-man it just wasn't our weekend. We might've dropped out of the top 10 but our 12th place finish proved to be our worst result of the season. Still pretty good for a brand new crew.
After Igls, we were back in Koniggssee where the 2-man podium exploits continued unabated. Greg and Brad finished in yet another top 6. In 4-man we had a richly deserved return to the top-10 too. Things were ramping up as we moved on to St Moritz, Switzerland.
After really looking forward to the St Moritz weekend, it turned out to be a bit of a let-down. It's the only natural ice track in the world and is normally an absolute dream to slide. The weather was pretty shabby by Moritz' normal high standards and the track proved difficult to drive due to it being cut to accommodate guests and taxi bobs, not so much for racing. In the 2-man Greg and Brad finished with a creditable 8th place after jumping 6 spots from a poor first heat. Sadly in the 4-man we had to bow out after Brad's back injury flared up.
No time for complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves though, we had a 2 day trek to Latvia to crack. This was a track Brad had never slid before and the uncertainty and doubt raged through the team again.
WE. LOVE. LATVIA.
Taking the decision to come to Latvia was another big gamble for our season. We had an injured pilot, a crew that needed to rest and prepare for a World Championships in 14 days time and a track that no British crew had ever visited. Plus no coach. In hindsight we kind of look at it and wonder what the hell we were thinking but that's bobsleigh! Challenge, obstacle, overcome.
As it turned out we ended up having a fantastic pre-World Champs training camp, and Brad drove excellently.
RETURN TO THE PODIUM
After only 6 runs down the track Brad and Greg finished a fantastic 5th place. We've not mentioned up to now just how big the effort was all round from the athletes at this point because, with no spare athletes, there were some tired bodies out there. Every result gained up to this point was a huge return for the team. We moved on to the World Championships with great excitement. Latvia also proved to be the best location on the circuit. Huge crowds of amazing fans, an Olympic-sized medal podium, unbelievable training facilities and great racing. We can't wait to go back.
2020 BOBSLEIGH AND SKELETON WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, ALTENBERG, GERMANY
So the moment we had been preparing for all season. We turned up at Altenberg a little bruised, a little battered and a little tired from the rigours of being a self-determining, self-funded team. The training runs were solid and we were ready to compete.
DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE 2-MAN
After a wonderful 2-man season, sadly the World Champs proved a competitive step too far for the boys. They ended the champs in 16th place, a season low. They weren't going to let anything get them down though, they quickly bounced back after reflecting on what had been a huge result of a season. Pushing a sled that weighed 30kg more than their competitors and still managing top 3 starts and several podiums was no mean feat and has laid the groundwork for some really exciting future 2-man campaigns.
4-MAN WITH THE PERFECT SIGN-OFF
As for the 4-man though, remember that rookie crew? After 4 hard-fought heats, we finished an excellent 7th. Top 8 at World Champs in 4-man was a best GB result at a major champs for years and certainly a personal best result for Brad.
It was an amazing sign-off for a season of adversity. At times, it really looked like we weren't going to pull off a season at all. Major injuries, no crew available, self-funded and running out of money, plus no governing body support all added to the failure melting pot. We believe lesser teams would've crumbled. But not us. We are unbelievably proud of what we achieved this year. It's time to get excited about GB Bobsleigh again. We're winning medals. We've got our amazing sponsors and we are on a genuine track to glory at the next Olympic Games in 2022.
TEAM BOBSLEIGH BRAD SEASON 19/20 IN NUMBERS
2-Man - 4 podiums out of 6 races. Top 3 starts. Highlight: Igls, 2nd place GB record.
4-Man - 4 Top 10s out of 5 races. Highlight: La Plagne, 8th place, equal best ever.
2-Man - 16th place. Highlight: Greg's poached eggs were on point that week.
4-Man - 7th place. Best Championship GB result in 5 years, best ever result for the crew.
OVERALL IBSF WORLD RANKING
2-Man - 6th (previous year 12th)
4-Man - 12th (previous year 17th)