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 pushin