Olympic hopeful Jesse Cockney carries on family tradition
Jesse Cockney was only three years old when his dad first strapped skis to him. Angus Cockney saw exceptional technique and balance in his son.
By the time he was five, Jesse was competing against eight-year-olds and nearly beating them. Now 24, he'll compete on the world stage in Sochi.
"He certainly has potential for the podium, for sure," said Angus.
That innate ability wasn't hard for Angus to recognize in another athlete.
Born in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., Angus won a pair of gold medals at the 1975 Canada Winter Games. In one race, he beat his closest competitor by the length of an Olympic swimming pool. Angus completed a two-month ski trip to the North Pole in 1989, the same year Jesse was born.
Jesse remembers growing up in a household of medals, photos and stories.
"It's definitely a motivator to have someone in the family like that," Jesse said in an earlier interview on CBC radio.
Angus says he himself didn't realize the significance of Olympic competition.
"When I think back on my career, I certainly blew my chance at competing at the Olympics. I was young and foolish at the time." Angus says he fell in with the wrong crowd. He says it's a path he regrets and a story he's never told his son.
Jesse has stayed the path. His commitment to the sport led him to Canada Winter Games in 2012. He won three gold medals. Also in 2012, he clocked his best individual result - ninth place in the free sprint. Angus says World Cup racing taught Jesse that "he knows he can do it, and he knows he belongs with the big boys."
The family moved from Yellowknife to Canmore, Alta., when Jesse was seven.
"He grew up mainly in the south but he knows who he is," said Angus, an Inuvialuk. Growing up, Jesse was exposed to his dad's traditional carvings and stories.
Jesse also read his great-grandfather's autobiography. I, Nuligak. Bob Cockney was one of the first Inuvialuit who learned to read and write, and he was another exceptional athlete.
"According to legend and the leaders up north, they talk about how my grandfather was quite the athlete - very agile and strong." Angus says. He believes Jesse inherited these genes, and his perseverance. Along with that, Angus says, generations of Cockneys have withstood the arctic's climate and extremes.
Angus, Jesse's mother and his younger sister decided not to fly to Sochi. Security concerns were enough to keep them away. Angus says this will allow Jesse to concentrate on the race instead of worring about his family.
Father and son have been texting daily since Jesse landed in Sochi. Angus says his texts are reminding Jesse to rest ahead of his big race.
"As a racer myself," Angus said, "I know what he's going through. You hope everything goes well - no slips, pulls, broken poles, broken bindings."
At 3 a.m. Feb. 11, the Cockneys will gather at Jesse's mom's house, to watch Jesse compete in the the cross-country skiing spirit freestyle event.
"We're the common, plain old family who just wants the best for our kids." Angus said. They'll watch the event on TV and computer screens, Angus timing the event closely. No outfits, no flags, no ceremony.
"There's nothing special we're going to be doing or wearing. It's up to him, right? You can only hope."