Have you ever wanted to sit down with a world-class athlete and ask them questions about what it’s really like to train and compete at an Olympic level? Today I was lucky enough to do just that at a lunch celebrating the launch of singer Melanie Doane’s new theme song for Canada’s bobsleigh and skeleton athletes, "Here on Top of the World." The song was created in celebration of Canada’s four medals at the Vancouver Olympics this year as well as to honour the 20th anniversary of women’s bobsleigh.
The three athletes at my table all spoke of the fun’and hard work’of training and competing, and said that the hardest thing was being away from family for long periods. The team travels to Europe every winter for the competition circuit and this time, they’ll be there for nine weeks.
But what I found most interesting was how the athletes got into bobsleigh. Lyndon Rush and David Bissett, both members of the men’s four-man team that won bronze in Vancouver, started out as football players and were recruited out of their university teams to try out for bobsleigh. They told me that it’s the combination of strength and speed that makes a good bobsleigh athlete, and football and track and field are two of the biggest sources of new members for the team. Unlike many sports, you can start in bobsleigh quite late, and athletes peak in their late 20s and early 30s. Both claim that while they were decent at football, they probably couldn’t have made a good career out of it’but when it comes to bobsleigh, they’re world class. It just goes to show that there’s a sport for everyone.
Kaillie Humphries, on the other hand, who won a gold medal in Vancouver along with Heather Moyse, started out in ski racing before moving to bobsleigh seven years ago. She agrees that it can be hard to be away from family and friends’for instance, she has to miss the wedding of one of her best friends because it’s taking place during competition season.
I asked all three athletes what it was like trying bobsleigh for the first time, and if it was as scary as it looks on TV. (I don’t think I’d be brave enough to go 130 km/h down an icy track, although Rick Mercer did it’check out the video below.) Apparently some potential recruits drop out after experiencing the full ride, and those that stay either love the rush, or are fine enough with it to stick with the training program.
After 20 years of women’s bobsleigh, I love that Canadian girls have role models like Humphries to look up to. She and Rush told me a great story of Rush’s four-year-old daughter, who is young enough to think it’s normal to have an Olympian for a dad. They say that when they showed her their two medals’one gold, one bronze’she decided she wanted a bronze when she grew up, not a gold. After all, that’s what her daddy has.
Pictured: Singer Melanie Doane with Canada’s bobsleigh and skeleton medallists.