It has been a tremendous season already for GB Bobsleigh with a number of top ten and better results having already been logged across the board. With World Cup, Europa Cup, Americaâ€™s Cup and Intercontinental Cup programmes all running; competition for places on the Sochi 2014 Olympic Team is fierce. From a sport that in 2010 was struggling with huge debts, GB Bobsleigh is now one of the success stories of British Winter sport. While this has not come about over night, the here and now is great but the sport is also looking to the future.
In the picturesque setting of the final turn of the Igls track above Innsbruck, the team are making what they hope will be a successful return to the track that saw a Youth Olympic Silver medal being won last January in the Womenâ€™s two man bob. In training this week for the Junior World Championships, Mica McNeill has been putting in very competitive times that have seen Gary Anderson start to think about the possibility of medals: â€œMica is the youngest pilot here and in training she has been going very well. I would never predict an athlete to get on the podium but in years to come, certainly Mica is going to top that podium.â€
Bobsleigh is one of the sports that talent can be transferred in from other sports. With GB Bobsleigh having identified the start as one of the key all important areas where the hundredths can be won in the hunt for Gold in Sochi, already recognised as what is known as a starters track, Craig Pickering is just the start, explains Anderson: â€œWe have had our eyes on Craig for a number of seasons, we know that Craig is an excellent athlete; we know his 100m pedigree and we know how well he has done at summer Olympic games. But it will not surprise you that I have a shopping list of athletes and there are others on that that will come. We need to be the fastest starters in the world and that is why we need athletes like Craig.â€
With a fast team already in place, how have the existing team reacted to Pickering coming on board? Anderson acknowledged: â€œCraig has a very hard job to get in the four man team.â€ The team is already one of the fastest starters on the tour at the moment and with the success coming, none of the team will want to give up their spot. â€œI like to have strength in depth and I think we have a great opportunity to qualify two four man sleds for the Olympic Games in Sochi,â€ continued Anderson. â€œTo have two crews starting in the top five would be a fantastic achievement.â€
The Four Man is the blue ribbon event for bobsleigh and it is this event that Anderson believes has been the highlight of the season so far. â€œPaula, Vicki and Mica in the womenâ€™s have all got solid results behind them but the elevation and performance directory of the four man has been fantastic. We went to UK Sport for funding saying we can do this; now we have shown that we can do it. We know that we are still not the top, top five or top four in the world is fantastic but we need to be best in the world.â€
This is a big call saying we want to be best in the world. From a country that has no track, has only a few practice start facilities, this is a big statement of intent. Yet while the intent is there so too are the backroom staff in place. Top coaches from Bobsleigh crazy nations like the Russians and Swiss have been recruited in. So to has one of the leading mechanics been lured from the Swiss bobsleigh programme, Rito Maier. McLaren F1 is helping with the design of the sled. Where British Cycling have shown the way in terms of the minute details improving the whole package, GB Bobsleigh are pushing the way forward as well.
So who does Anderson believe will be the top performers to make the jump forward? â€œIn the Womenâ€™s, Paula has shown that she can compete with the best, we have high hopes for Paula. In the four man we have shown that we can be the fastest down the track, we have shown that we can be the fastest starters but we have a long way to go. Sochi is fourteen months away, it is not a lot of time, and we need to work very hard in the summer. We are putting a big programme together, a lot of investment so we will go to Sochi to be able to do the best we can do. But we will also have one eye on Pyongchang in 2018. The athletes that we have here (for the Junior Worlds) are part of that programme. They may not qualify for Sochi but they are part of that programme.â€
The engine, as in the athletes, is there yet how big a part of the whole package is the sled? Anderson explains that this is a huge part of the package: â€œThere are three things that we have recognised as our technical model: That is the start, the sled and the drive.Â The start we are looking after; the sled we are refining that with Rito and McLaren and we also have UK Sport working with us. We are looking at every single angle we can do.â€ Anderson explained that McLaren have got the track in Sochi laid out and with the weather expected for the race day, have developed runners that work best for the temperature expected for race day. This is all hi tec stuff. â€œThere are things we know we have not done yet but we have them up our sleeves: the secret squirrels are burying the nuts and will bring them out in Sochi!â€
The top two British drivers, John Jackson and Paula Walker have only been driving four to five years, explained Anderson. â€œThey are still, compared to some of the German and Russian drivers, early in their careers. By the time they get to Sochi, they will have done the runs down the Sochi track, they will have done the World Cup races, I am confident, I have a lot of faith in my athletes.â€
First up though it is the Womenâ€™s Two Man in the World Juniorsâ€¦