Canadian brakemen battle for spots on bobsled team
Olympic pairings will be revealed closer to Sochi Games
The sports world is sometimes ungrateful. In hockey, perfectly healthy players are left on the bench. In bobsled, brakemen fight to obtain a spot behind the pilot. And up until the very last minute, nothing is guaranteed.
Even though the Olympic bobsled team was named and presented last Monday in Montreal, the identity of the brakemen who will sit behind Kaillie Humphries, Jenny Ciochetti, Lyndon Rush, Chris Spring and Justin Kripps will only be confirmed a few weeks before the Winter Games.
The pilots can relax: unless they get injured, they know that they are going to Sochi.
“You don’t train to be at the top in September, but to be the best in February. I don’t want the girl who was fast in September, but the one who’s fastest in February”, claims Humphries, who won Olympic gold in Vancouver with Heather Moyse, during an informal discussion after her practice.
These may sound like harsh words to the non-initiated, but they do speak to the brakemen’s reality, and they know it.
“If you are the type of person who likes to have full control on your life, then you’d better be a pilot”, said Moyse, who has just returned to the competitive scene this season following hip surgery.
She also took a two-year hiatus after the 2011 world championships.
A brakeman's choice
It is, after all, the choice that Humphries made after the Games in Turin, Italy and Ciochetti after Vancouver.
Moyse doesn’t have a problem living with this uncertainty. Otherwise, at 35, she would have moved on and let some younger athletes replace her. But since her return to the national team this past summer, she has imposed her presence by breaking a world start record, winning two World Cup races and placing herself right back into the seat behind Humphries, continuing to nurture the hope of defending her Olympic title in Russia.
“I don’t like to talk about Sochi. Injuries can happen. But I will not change the way I approach the track," said Moyse, who suffered through some back pains nearly two weeks ago in Park City, Utah.
Moyse’s solid performances turned into a fierce struggle between Chelsea Valois, Kate O’Brien, Emily Baadsvik and Marquise Brisebois for the only other available seat within the women’s team.
Valois assisted Ciochetti for the first two races, and then she was with Humphries after Moyse’s injury, which allowed Baadsvik to get in on the action.
Valois considers herself lucky to have participated in all the races. She has had a tough time after her impressive ascent during her rookie year last season. From world champion and World Cup champion with Humphries, she almost lost her spot on the team as a result of too much training.
“I trained with the same trainer that Kaillie used. My body was not used to such intensity. Last summer I used to train 2-3 hours per day. This summer, it was 2-3 hours twice a day. Kaillie has been doing this for 10 years, but I haven’t. By the time the test events came, I was exhausted. My pushes where less efficient than the previous year. I ended up ranking almost last”, explained the shy brakeman after some initial reticence.
Since then, Valois has been working with the physical trainer of the Canadian team, and her results have been improving. What remains are the internal struggles.
“I knew from the beginning that Heather would be back. It was too good to be true last year” she added.
No curmudgeons allowed
However, pure strength is not all that counts; attitude plays a big role, too.
“The season is long. You don’t want someone who causes problems, who stresses the team. A good teammate must also be able to manage the pressure, must be adaptable to all the travelling and to life on the road. She must be nice, you don’t want a girl who sulks or who complains”, said Humphries, who is willing to sacrifice a few hundredths of a second for a positive attitude.
There’s no doubt that the coming weeks will be heartbreaking, since two brakemen and one backup will be held back from the Games.
“I have learnt to become a good teammate. I’d rather be here than sitting at an office desk," said Baadsvik, who used to work as rehabilitation therapist before switching to bobsled in 2010 after being inspired by Humphries and Moyse’s performance in Vancouver.
“At the end of the day, the important thing is for Canada to win a medal, no matter who’s sitting in the sled.”
This story has been translated from French and edited by CBC Sports