TP TALKS TO... Chris Spring

by Travelling Peach

AN ACCIDENTAL BOBLEIGHER
I fell into bobsleigh by chance; I never actively pursued it. I was travelling during my gap year and one day, whilst in Calgary, I was bored so went to watch a race. I started talking to one of the drivers. He had only recently learnt to drive and asked me if I wanted to ride down in the back of his sled the following week. I said ‘Sure, let’s go for it, you know’ and it wasn’t long before I thought ‘Wow! This is pretty cool. Maybe I’d be good at it.’ It was that simple. I never even considered any other sports. Bobsleigh was the first one I was introduced to and it was awesome.


1-MINUTE RUN = 1000’s HOURS TRAINING
Lots of people in bobsleigh inspire me, even myself. When I first started the sport, I didn’t realise how much goes on behind the scenes. I thought you jumped into your sled, drove down the track and that was it but, for that 1-minute run down the track, we spend thousands of hours training, preparing the equipment, researching better equipment, analysing different lines and how to be faster down the track.
 

‘I love Australia and it will always feel like home but I also feel very Canadian. I wanted to be one of the best in the world and who better to help me be the best than to train and compete against the best.’


WINTERY WILDERNESS ADVENTURES
Adventures always occur when you’re transporting bobsleds through the wintery wilderness. Two seasons ago, my teammate Sam [Giguère] and I were driving down a crazy winding road from Germany to the track in St. Moritz, Switzerland. We were driving a gearshift truck to transport the sled, nothing too powerful, but suddenly the truck wouldn’t go into first or second gear anymore. It was totally busted. It was freezing cold and there we were, surrounded by trees and trying to travel up these ice bags in insanely crazy snow, chains on the tyres and were revving the absolute hell out of this bobsled-bulging truck, just to keep it in third gear and try to summit the hill. It was mental.

TRAINING IN ST. MORITZ
My favourite bobsleigh track is in St. Moritz. It’s the longest in the world, travels from St. Moritz to Celerina and is absolutely beautiful. We train there regularly. When we’re not on the track, our training is quite low maintenance, with lots of weight training and sprinting. We travel with our own gym so we’re always carrying 4-500kg of weights in the trucks; then we’ll train in the garage or outside if it’s a sunny day. Just give us our winter coats, snow pants, gloves and equipment and we’re good to go.

JAMAICA WE ARE A BOBSLEIGH TEAM
I love how during the Olympics the whole world stops and unites, simply because of sport. It’s a beautiful thing. People from all walks of life and countries across the world cheer together so, if someone can represent their country in a sport that’s not been represented before, that can give a lot of hope and opportunity to others who want to follow in their footsteps later in life.


THE TEAM

Regardless of position in the sled, all bobsledders have certain characteristics in common. They need to be fast, strong, powerful athletes.
 

  • THE PILOT. Being a pilot is a long-term investment; not everyone wants to be one. The pilot gets in first and has the most responsibility, not just to drive the sled but also to protect his teammates’ safety. You have to be someone who’s happy to take on the extra responsibility, thinks clearly under pressure and is willing to train for at least 8-10 years. It’s not quick and it’s not easy so, to be one of the best pilots in the world, you have to want to put in the long-term development.
     
  • THE WINGMEN are the most powerful. They’re bigger, stronger and they run a shorter distance. Their role is to generate enormous speed before jumping into the sled, after which the brakeman continues pushing to maintain acceleration.
     
  • THE BRAKEMAN has to be the fastest. He gets in last so he has to run the furthest distance. As we’re all jumping inside, the sled is continually accelerating so, by the time he jumps in, it’s already travelling at 45-50km/hr. He has to be fast enough to keep up with the sled, strong enough to keep pushing it and agile enough to jump in safely at that speed.

Until I started bobsled, I entirely underestimated the athletics world. Whether it’s my team or any of the other teams in the world we, as bobsledders, have some absolutely phenomenal athletes. Witnessing the vast amount of weight they can lift, how fast they can run pulling that weight and even seeing how agile they are getting into the sleds so quickly and in perfect position… The general public doesn’t know the extent of how amazing these athletes are. I’m really proud to call it my sport and my teammates.
 

‘3 sleds before it’s our turn, I take my helmet, kiss it, put it on my head, tie it up and away we go.’


TIPS FOR GRIP
Adidas designed some special shoes that improve our grip when running and pushing the sled on the ice. They resemble the track shoes worn by the 100m sprinters but, instead of the 6-8 spikes they have in the front, ours have 350 little razor sharp needles poking out of the bottom. They’re very secure, stable and it doesn’t feel like you’re running on ice at all. The only problem is that they fill up with ice as you do the 30-40m run so you have to ensure that they’re perfectly clean before you push.
 

‘I thought that going to an Olympics would really make me like some sort of God haha but it didn’t change me and I’m glad it hasn’t.

 

OLYMPIC GOD? MORE LIKE THE MORTAL HERCULES
If someone had told me that becoming an Olympian wouldn’t change me so don’t expect it to, I wouldn’t have believed it but they were right. Before my first Olympics, I honestly thought I’d leave feeling like a whole new person, like something special would have changed in me, but I’m the same as every other person, Olympian or not. I’m just as special as I was before and who I am is influenced by who I am and what I like to do, not by what I achieve or what medals I win because that’s just part of me; an effect of what I enjoy doing. The most important thing to me is that people remember me, not for being an Olympic athlete or for my results but, because I’m a nice person to them. That’s more important than any Olympic or World Championship result.  


SUCCESS ISN’T A MEDAL; SUCCESS IS A JOURNEY
Everyone’s goals are going to be different. My favourite thing about them is that they don’t have to be set in stone. Most people think that if you don’t achieve your goals then you’ve failed but I completely disagree. The biggest failure is not trying to achieve them at all. As long as you’re giving your all, you’re improving and you’ll become a stronger, more rounded person for trying. The outcome is whether or not the end result achieved is what you originally set out to do but, honestly, regardless of whether or not that comes to fruition, the biggest question is: ‘Did you give it your all to get there?’
 

‘My mind works at 1million/mph on the way down the track. Sometimes I hear the guys behind me if I absolutely nail a section of the track that I’ve been having problems with… They’ll give me a little cheer or something like that. I like that. It’s good.’
 

THE GLAMOROUS ‘DANCE’
It’s quite violent inside a bobsled. Hurtling down the track is not smooth. There’s no padding, no heated seats, no cup holders; it’s not a luxury ride. There’s steal and fibreglass, it’s cold, bolts are jamming into your legs and you’ve got 3 stinky guys behind you. With that in mind, one of my coaches used to tell me ‘Pretend that you’re dancing on the way down the track. The race is a dance and the track is your dancing partner. Move with the rhythm of the track.’ Essentially, it means that instead of trying to lead too much, move with the track; dance with it, embrace its curves and have a good time on the way down. I always think of it as a dance now so, when I’m cruising down the track, if my hips and body are moving slightly, I know things are going well.



QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
With anything in life, quality is far more important than quantity; however it’s especially important when piloting a bobsled. The human brain can only process so much and mine has to do it at speeds of >150km/hr. In a race, we only have 1 shot so, in training, I prefer to do fewer runs down the track so that I can completely focus on quality and making each run count.

A common misconception is that the more runs you do, the better a pilot you will become but, actually, the complete opposite happens. You pick up lots of bad habits and, knowing that you have lots of opportunities to practice the run, there’s a tendency to become complacent. Consequently, you might not execute each run as perfectly as you could have had you relaxed and allowed yourself more mental space to process everything coming at you. Nowadays, if I’m mentally fatigued, I stop for the day. I don’t push myself to perfect the move I’m working on. Knowing that I have the ability and that my hands know how to drive the track is enough.

 

‘Listening to Coldplay’s Life in Technicolor 2 pre-race reminds me that ‘Ok, you’re out here having a good time, you’re representing Canada… Regardless of todays result, enjoy your time here and be grateful for the position you’re in… Let’s do this.’’



WORKING WITH A SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST
The 2012 crash was horrific so, whilst in hospital, I worked with a sports psychologist. Starting the therapy immediately was important for my recovery and helping me to return to the sport because for a while I didn’t know if I wanted to continue bobsledding. My team and I had incurred so many injuries. I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to be in a position to hurt people ever again so we did a lot of work on how to prepare myself before each run and before a race too.
 

‘There’s a lot of trust between you all. Bobsled is fast, furious and very dangerous. No matter which member of the team you are, you go into bobsled knowing that that’s the risk. They must have a lot of faith in you - and you in yourself.’ Definitely! That was an important lesson for me to learn because, ultimately, everyone in the sport has a choice and they’re choosing to be my teammates. If they don’t want to be my teammates, they don’t have to be. Nobody’s forced to slide so they’re investing a lot of trust in me.

 

‘What really hit home in recent years is that: if they believe in my ability then why shouldn’t I believe in my own ability? That’s something to remember in every area of life, not just sport.’
 




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