Transfer To Bobsleigh. A Sprinter's Story

I’ve already written a brief history of my entrance into bobsleigh in my other transfer article. I was considering copying and pasting the first bit then going from there but there’s actually more detail to the story that I know you’re all itching to read about.


Image: I was blonder then. This is a real-time shot of me being very upset at the performance I'd just put in. 10.43 at the 2013 London Anniversary Games in the Olympic Stadium


So here it is.


After a short time in sprinting (talent-spotted in 2010, first season 2011, breakout season 2013, then injury, injury, injury), my eyes began to wander to different sports.


My introduction and short career in the world of track and field was, ironically and metaphorically, a bit like the bobsleigh run I would come to compete in years later.


It started comparatively slow, got faster, more violent, sometimes crashed and (ice) burned, and finished in a haze of confusion and dizziness.


There will be imagery and videos that most of my followers have seen over and over. Soz


Let me explain.


I was obsessed when I started training for sprinting.


I felt I’d 'slipped through the net’ and never had a clue about the genetic gifts I possessed. Certainly not beyond the fact that when I started lifting weights at 18 I got so strong so quickly that the locals decided I was on drugs. Sort of a compliment I suppose.


I was rapid when I was a small child but I’d given up sport through secondary (high) school in favour of music, only picking up football again as a 15/16 year old.


Once again the notion of running fast was just useful for playing football, it never occurred to me, and I was never guided, to seek help from an athletics club.


So, after being spotted as a 20 year old and improving my 100m time from 11.5s to 10.4s within a year, I thought, ‘I cannot waste this opportunity’.

I stopped drinking alcohol completely, I militantly avoided social gatherings of any kind if I thought it was going to impact on my sleep. I ate a tonne, watched just about every 100m race you can think of and basically trained as hard as I could.


In fact, I remember the exact day that my strength as a runner changed. I was running 120m repeats and I remember coming off the bend in that session and suddenly feeling ‘tall’.


I could feel strength and power with every ground contact on the ball of my foot, my hips were high, my knees were high and it felt like a totally different running style up to that point. After starting training in the October, this would have been around December 2010.


By January 2011 and my first-ever indoor competitions I had run 6.81s for the 60m and qualified for the UK Championships.


In less than a year I’d gone from being a non-runner, working in my local pub to running in a national championship on national television.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2011, I finished the season with a 100m personal best of 10.45s, an improvement of around 1 second from my first attempts.


From here I didn’t look back, I improved to running in the 6.6s region for the 60m for fun (a real regret of mine is that I never broke that barrier to 6.5 and beyond, I was more than capable) and, after a move to Linford Christie, began running the mid to low 10s in the 100m for the first time. Culminating with a best 100m performance of 10.24s in 2013.


Credit: Getty obviously. Fingers crossed they don't tell me to take it down. Running 6.66 at the Birmingham Grand Prix finishing close behind some big names


Again, I was gutted that after running 10.2s so consistently I never found that extra % to drop below. This was a technical issue and something in my fledgling career I just couldn’t overcome. I remained too tense and never quite got the hang of relaxing in the latter stages of a race.


But anyway, I lay out that 2011-2013 context to show the conflicted mindset I developed as a competitive athlete throughout that short period.

Imagine you were me.


You had no background in sport beyond Sunday League football where your teammate’s warm-up was less foam-rolling and more cigarette-rolling.


You spent most of your youth focusing on music.


You never dreamt that you could be a sportsman, that realm was for other, more gifted people.


Then suddenly after a coach spots you and tells you you can run fast if you train - you do.


Really fast.


Then imagine you end up doing it on TV. Then being paid to do it abroad. Then doing it for your country. Then being sponsored by a major sportswear brand. All that self-belief and late-blossoming energy being vindicated by hard training and improving performance.


Image credit photographer Sam Folan: 2013 fun with Puma


Next stop 10.1, 10.0 and sub 10 right?

Then imagine it all stopped as suddenly as it had begun.


Imagine you started getting repeatedly injured and not really knowing why. Imagine then starting to doubt all those previous beliefs.


During this sort of negative spiral, the only things being vindicated are the doubts you’d begun to feel. With consistent injury comes consistent poor performance until, or if, you can get out of the funk.


A lot of my peers from that time had been junior internationals too. There wasn’t anyone running at the level I’d stumbled into without a background in athletics. As someone who has never really struggled to fit in anywhere, I really did struggle here. I never really felt that I belonged. A square peg in the round holes of existing youth talent.


This mattered less when I was shifting.


But as I sunk into the mire of injury and doubt, and those same peers continued to rise, I found it harder to shake the nagging feeling of, ‘see? It was always meant for them. It wasn’t meant for you.’


As I mentioned at the start of this piece, my eyes began to wander to other sports.


If there was one thing I believed, it was that I was meant for something in sport, to leave a legacy of some kind.


To be spotted the way I was, to improve and rise as rapidly as I did all felt too cruel and too pointless to have been for nothing.


No, my destiny lay elsewhere, facilitated by the great foundations I’d laid as a low 10 second sprinter.


In 2015 and in my infinite wisdom and determinedness, I opted to try multi-events. I guess I thought I wanted to be the master of the 'jack of all trades.'


I’m not going to delve too far into this because the result is all that matters. Misdiagnosed stress-fractured ankle from the enormous volume of training I was exposing myself to and the poor technique I had when learning the different events.


In hindsight I think this was the dumbest thing I’d ever done.

But I was impatient. To me, just one poor year was too much. I had improved year on year from 2011 - 2013. In 2014 I was meant to continue my rise and when that failed to materialise, I switched focus too soon. Something I always think I let my coach down on.


But anyway the ankle issue kept me out for the entirety of 2015 when I made the decision to drop the decathlon attempt and return to sprinting. The ankle healed enough that I could piece some training together through the winter and when I returned to sprinting in summer 2016, I started the season with (windy) equal best performances.


Regardless of the wind reading, I had just moved my body from 0-100m as fast as I ever had. And certainly the fastest I’d moved since 2013.

Fast-forward to a race in Lisbon, Portugal where I pulled up with a hamstring problem (all caused from the biomechanical issues my ankle problem had elicited) and I found myself crocked once again, within a week or so of the UK Champs and Olympic Trials.


Suddenly, the excitement of rejuvenating my career with a great performance at the 2016 Olympic Trials petered into nothing as I limped through the semi-finals.


I watched my training partners go to the Olympics, again. I embarked on a hamstring rehab protocol, again. And I sat there awash with all the doubts and assurances that I’d failed because I wasn’t good enough, again.


Credit to the never-say-die optimist in me, however, (or the perpetual delusionist - you decide), I looked again to another sport. This time - winter sports.


My strength as a sprinter was always my acceleration. I could beat anybody in the world out of the blocks when I was in form. I knew some sprinters in bobsleigh who were running fast (sub-10 Joel Fearon anyone?) and here was a sport that wouldn’t tax my hamstrings so much and would lend to my skill set.


So I enquired, I trialled and I started.


Actually transferring into bobsleigh was pretty easy.

My skill set worked for the task of pushing, I had a great competitive temperament, and I was brave. Definitely scared of it, but brave enough to not let it stop me succeeding (note - subject of a different article to come).


Two sprinters and two soldiers in the leader's box after a Top 10 at the 2018 Altenberg World Cup


Some people trial well but don’t necessarily perform well on ice. I had no such issues. I found like-minded people in the team, and loved this sport of misfits.


I was suddenly around some absolute titans who had found their way across from other high level sports too.


There were guys like Sam Blanchet who played rugby for England 7s and Exeter Chiefs but had suffered too many concussions and had to switch sports. Joel Fearon who was consistently running 10.1 and faster for the 100m. Ben Simons, possibly the most plyometric monster I’ve ever seen.


And plenty others.


All with the goal of competing at the highest level for their country, winning medals and putting their emphatic physical talents to use in a sport that worked for them and no longer against them.


I qualified pretty quickly for the World Cup tour and was blessed with a few different teams in my early endeavours. I was, generally, never on a crew that pushed slowly which certainly looked good for me!


After a fun first season where we signed off with a top 8 performance at the Olympic Test Event in South Korea, we had a pretty tumultuous summer training period.


I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of what went on because this article is already too long!


But summer training for bobsleigh in general is a dream. You do all the best bits of sprint training, lifting weights, plyo, pushing sessions all in the sun with the boys.


You enjoy getting as strong and explosive as possible, bond with your teammates and relish getting good at the push without the danger of your pilot flipping you into hospital. Magic.


Once this concludes, you then embark on the winter tour. A time of suffering, sacrifice, competition, deflation and elation.


It moulds you, shapes you and brings the best and the worst athletes to the surface.


If you’re not meant for it, you get found out pretty quickly.


Warming up in -20C at our Olympic holding camp in Seoul, South Korea


Ultimately, if you make the switch, and you are of the level required physically and as a teammate, I believe with all its hardships and all its opportunity, you’ll get more from this sport than any other.


I’m going to wrap this up now because I could waffle on forever.

If bobsleigh doesn’t become a financially viable option beyond the next Olympics then my career will likely end in 2022 after the Beijing Games.


This scares and excites me in equal measure.


I will make the most of every opportunity I have whilst I have it. I want to be the best brakeman in the world, a tall order for a smaller guy.


I’ll always endeavour to help and guide any new athletes that want it. I don’t want anyone to come into this sport at the top level and feel they don’t belong.


I’ll do my best to show the world that this sport is an immense option for any speed and power athlete, and work to inspire the public to get behind us and join the adrenaline journey.


If you're considering this sport, you want to transfer and you think you've got what it takes, then start your story now. It'll be the best move you ever made.


P.S I know this ended somewhat abruptly but it’s nice outside and I want to run. Sue me.


If you require any more information on transferring to bobsleigh, please don’t hesitate to contact me through my beautiful PA: barbara@thebrakeman.org

USING A GLOBAL LOCKDOWN TO CREATE A HOME FOR THE POWERHOUSES OF BOBSLEIGH

Please get in touch if you have questions you'd like me to answer, articles you'd like to see, commercial or publicity opportunities, libel threats etc. My PA Barbara will get back to you. (not me in a wig)

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