We've been wanting to catch Thorsten after interviewing his co-gold medal winner Alex Kopacz back in June. He talks about how he found bobsleigh, life in Team Friedrich and converting the Sochi experience into Pyeongchang glory...
Credit IBSF: A rare World Cup gold for Thorsten (L) and Francesco Friedrich
TBM: Thorsten welcome! Thank you for giving us your time.
TM: Thank you for having me.
TBM: You're welcome. Let's dive in, tell us your history! How did you get into bobsleigh and what was your sporting background?
TM: Ok, so I started with track and field from a very young age, about 6. I was an active child and always needed to be moving so it was easy for my parents to dump me in that sport. I was pretty good at the youth level too, at 18 I came 4th at the Junior World Championships.
Then after graduating high school and starting my senior career, I switched my training base to Halle. My new trainer was the father of a bobsleigh athlete so that was kind of my first contact with the sport. But my dreams were to do decathlon at the senior Olympic Games and World Championships. After about 2-3 years of training I realised it wasn’t meant to be - my hurdles were too bad!
After this I had some contact with a bobsleigh pilot called Oliver Haraβ who was also a decathlete. He was successful in youth bobsleigh and asked me if I’d like to try it out in 2010.
I said no!
I said I didn’t want to and that I wanted to focus on decathlon. Actually, that year I got a spot on the German senior team for a small competition against the USA out in San Diego. It was a lot of fun but my PB was 7707 points at that time and I needed about 8300+ to make the senior team at a major championships. After that season the pilot asked me again and I decided that I’d try it out.
3 months later he called me and asked if I could come and slide the German Championships with him. This was in January 2011. I pushed a few times and then just went for it! After that I said I’d like to go back and try another decathlon season but that I was very interested in doing bobsleigh in the winter 2011-12 season. It turned out my decathlon season was very bad! So, quite early on in 2012 I decided to switch fully to bobsleigh and had 2012-2013 as my first full season.
I started with Francesco for the first few races to help him out. That year for Junior Worlds, I was good enough for 4-man and we won which qualified us for the Senior World Championships in St Moritz where he won his first 2-man world title.
Credit IBSF: Thorsten trying to hug me after the final run
TBM: So that was when the journey with Friedrich started?
TM: Yeah 2012-13 was my first season with him and I stayed ever since. After that season I said “ok, I’m on your team now!” In the 2014 Olympic season I wanted to push him and I guess that was the beginning of our story.
TBM: Ah I forgot you went to Sochi...
TM: Yeh we went to Sochi. Francesco was favourite in 2-man as the World Champion but we were having a lot of problems that year with the FES sleds. They were very slow, and I think Francesco placed 6th. But he was still the best German in 2-man and we were 10th and 8th in the 4-man.
Credit Someone On Google: Thorsten is at the back somewhere
TBM: Unusual finish for you guys!
TM: Well not for me! It was my first Olympics and I was just in the 4-man. Plus, in 4-man at that time we needed luck to get medals. The experience was bigger for me and I learned a lot for the next year. 2015 I guess was the beginning of our 2-man legacy in Winterberg. That was where I won a world title with him for the first time.
Credit IBSF: Not Winterberg but a solid photo, Thorsten being allowed to touch the trophy
TBM: Winterberg was also your first track right?
Yes, my first track was Winterberg with Oliver Haraβ when he called me to help him out at the German Championships. I remember during my first-ever run thinking, “have we crashed or are we ok?!” I guess the same thing every bobsledder feels for their first time. It's a crazy sport, you can’t describe the feeling.
TBM: My first runs were down Igls and I hated it. Everyone said not to worry as it is the easiest track in the world - which didn’t help. All I thought was ‘shit, this is going to get worse'. I wish they’d just sent me down Altenberg.
Anyway, we digress, tell us about Pyeongchang DOUBLE gold...
TM: The two races were very different. When we started the 2-man race, Francesco and I were main favourites as we’d won everything that season. We had 3 global titles in a row together and were pushing at a high level. When I was warming up in Pyeongchang I knew nobody could beat us and we’d start 5 hundredths faster than everyone else. That was an awesome feeling.
But with our first run I remember thinking,
‘did he forget to drive or something?!’
It was crazy he had such big mistakes in corner 2-3 and wasn’t really able to figure it out. I couldn’t believe it as Francesco is such a good competitor, you know, he always brings his best for the main event of the season.
I think we didn’t talk for about 2 hours after. I had doping control which was probably a good thing so we didn’t have to speak for a bit! We were about 3 tenths behind Nico (Walther, retired German pilot) I think and in 5th place.
When we cooled down a bit, and started to talk with each other again, I said to him, “let’s just go win tomorrow and have the greatest comeback in Olympic history.” He was of the same opinion! Anyway our trainer came down and told us that if we started as well as we had today, there was a chance we could get a medal. I laughed and said,
"I don’t want a medal, I want a gold medal!"
The trainer didn’t believe we would come back to win gold but the next day in that third run we broke the track record. That was when we truly believed we could do it.
We had momentum on our side and we were starting faster and gaining tenths against Kripps (Canadian pilot). I really believed we were going to do it. The 4th run was good, a little heavy steering at the top but it was good after that. When we finished and I saw the position number 1 on the clock I thought, ‘Yeh, we’ve won.’
I didn't realise Melbardis was so close though! I think he was only 5 hundredths behind! When Kripps was starting, the start was a little slower than us and I thought that should hopefully mean gold for us. Then he was perfect all the way down! He got faster and faster and was in front towards the end. Then I thought,
‘oh shit maybe we will get a silver’.
It sounds crazy but after the season we just had, we desperately wanted the gold. When Kripps went through the finish and it was the same time, joint gold, I couldn't believe it. I don't really know what happened after that. I was celebrating but I don't remember anything. I think my brain stopped working. But it was an amazing moment.
Joint Gold History: The lads stepping on the podium together
TBM: Really cool, I spoke to Alex (Kopacz) a couple months back and he said how special it was to share the gold medal. He felt it made it very unique.
TM: Yeh very true.
TBM: Then there was the 4-man gold which was undisputed...
TM: Completely different competition. Johannes Lochner I think was the main favourite as he had won about 4 world cups in 4-man that season. But when he was driving down and was about 3 tenths behind Won (Korean team pilot), I thought, 'ok we are all getting destroyed by Won!'
But Francesco drove much better than the 2-man competition and when we came through the finish and we heard we were quite far ahead, Francesco and I turned to each other and said, “we've won this already.”
My teammates Martin and Candy didn't want to hear that though!! They were shaking their heads and saying,
“shut the fuck up and get on with the competition.”
But Francesco and I knew, especially when Nico was down, that we were going to win.
TBM: That's hilarious to hear how you two bounce off each other, and Candy and Martin were like 'we haven't won yet' - interesting team dynamic.
TM: Don't get me wrong, I knew we had to finish the competition and the second day is always a different day. We remembered at the 2016 World Champs at Igls, Innsbruck, we were in front and on the second day we lost everything against Melbardis (Latvia team pilot) and ending up coming second by 4 hundredths. We learnt from that experience and so on the second day at the Games we said “let’s just demoralise them now.” We have to give everything in this third run.
That second day in 2016, in the third run, we were about 6 hundredths slower at the start and that was the main reason we lost. But when you’re so many tenths in front, sometimes it's a little bit hard to keep the focus on pushing at the highest level.
But when you lose that focus, you lose the race.
We all learned from that day in 2016 and we knew we had to do everything in run 3 at the Games in 2018. In a competition, run 1 and run 3 are the most important. We were able to enjoy the Olympic race though, that was really cool.
Credit IBSF: Thorsten pretending to know what he's looking at
TBM: It's actually amazing to hear it from your side. You guys win so often, people don't know the deeper workings of the team. It's easy for spectators to make throwaway comments that you’re gonna win, but you go out to win and want to win every single time.
TM: Well, take this year, (2020) in Altenberg.
We HAD to win that race.
It's our home track but training wasn't great and we weren’t as fast as the other guys. Sometimes Lochner was fast and we were slow and we didn’t know why. Some days we’re not that sure everything will be great. After the first run of the Champs it was clear then, but it's not always that way.
You have to be 100% motivated to win, 100% of the time and take nothing for granted.
TBM: Well you're extremely consistent, does that consistency bring heavy pressure?
TM: Yeah, sure but the main expectations are our own so it's a mix of both. We don't worry too much about external forces. It's getting bigger I guess as we win a lot but the pressure from the young guys is also there.
As a brakeman it's difficult as you get older, new athletes come in and you have to work that much harder to keep your spot. So there are other pressures too.
Credit IBSF: Team Friedrich with their coveted crystal globes (L-R Thorsten, Candy Bauer, Friedrich, Alex Schüller and Martin Grothkopp)
TBM: And that leads me onto my final question, as if I need to ask, what's the goal for Beijing 2022?
TM: Yeah, double gold is the dream again. We will do everything in our power to make that happen but we will see. We will see how the track is and hopefully we will do the pre-Olympic World Cup and hopefully it’ll go well.
TBM: Thorsten you are a gent, thank you for your time and some great answers. Now, you knew this was coming, your 'would you rather' question. The most important part of the interview.
Would you rather:
Have super strength but you poop your pants every time you use it?
Be able to fly but you have to be naked?
TM: That’s a good question. So if I use my strength and power in bobsleigh...
TBM: You’d shit yourself enormously. On television.
TM: Ok so I’d need a diaper. I have got a fat ass so you wouldn’t see that I'm wearing one I suppose.
But saying that I think I'd choose the second one, flying naked.
TBM: People staring up and thinking, oh look Thorsten is flying again...
TM: Haha yes that’s the one!
Follow Thorsten and his team's onward journey for Olympic glory below 👇