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January 29, 2016
Those of you who attended the 2015 BTA Conference in September of last year may remember Alysia Rissling, the pilot for the Canadian women's bobsleigh team that the BTA is helping to sponsor. She gave an inspiring presentation about her journey becoming an Olympic hopeful.
Last week, she took a break from her competing in Europe to send us a letter telling us how things are going:
Dear Warren and members of the BTA,
I hope you and your families had a wonderful holiday season and start to 2016. I had a great time at home with my family in Edmonton before heading back to Calgary for a testing camp with the Canadian bobsleigh program. On January 1st they shipped me and 13 others to Europe with a one-way ticket. We have 3 women’s teams (one of which is piloted by me) and 1 men’s team in our developing crew. The men have had some experience on the European tracks but none of the women have ever driven any of the tracks over here, so the races we get to do are entered as we go and completely dependent on how fast we learn the new tracks and if our pushing standards are continually up to par. I’ve been here for 3 weeks now and have seen 3 new tracks. I have competed in two races in on the Europa Cup circuit, so I figured I’d fill you in about how it is going over here!
We flew into Frankfurt and picked up sled trucks and rental vehicles then collected the sleds that had been shipped over. We then drove the 4 hours south east into the Bavaria region of Germany to the Königssee track. The track is very fun, and has a big kriesel (360 degree turn) that is notoriously a little tricky. I had a very rough first day…for the first time in my life I crashed both training runs in a row. Luckily my brakeman Kasha Lee is tough as nails and such a great teammate and was back in the sled with me the next day. The next 3 days were great improvements and by race day I was feeling confident. The race had 16 women’s sleds, more than any race I have been in yet. It was also very competitive, as a lot of previous World Cup athletes decided not to attend the 3 North American World Cup races and entered the Europa Cup instead. I am so proud to announce a great come-back story, because with only 6 successful runs down the track, Kasha and I were able to claim a medal for 5th place! The only people in the top 5 were athletes that have been on the World Cup in either this season or last, and have had dozens if not hundreds of runs more experience on this German track. Our 2 goals were to push a 5.40 at the top, and come top 6. As the only Canadians on the podium, we managed to dig out a 5.38 and 5th, so we left extremely happy!
The next track on the list was only a short 2 hour drive to Igls, Austria. The small mountain town is only about 10 km up a mountain from Innsbruck, and it will be the host of the World Championships in February. I guess we brought the snow with us, as one of the training days was cancelled because the sled trucks couldn’t get up the hill! This meant we actually only got 5 trips down the track before race day, a huge disadvantage to us Canadians as it takes run volume to be able to perfect fast lines. The race was even more competitive with 18 women’s sleds, even including the Olympic silver medalist.
Usually I go into a race with a set plan in my head on which lines I will execute, because I am still learning the lines I take sometimes may not be right but the goal is to be consistent. With only 5 runs under my belt heading into the race, I actually went in a plan to try something completely different because what I had tried so far in training hadn’t been fast, and luckily it paid off. We finished in 7th place, and although I was frustrated to drop out of the medal position I am glad of the experience and will feel much more confident for Worlds. The racing in Igls didn’t end there, our coaches combined my 2-woman team with one of the other 2-woman teams and we entered the 4-person competition. Instead of sitting out and watching the boys we got to compete with them, getting ready for the first ever 4-woman race that will take place at World Championships this February. Also in the competition were 2 other all-women sleds, the Romanians and the Americans. The race had 30 sleds, and only the top 20 get a second run, so unfortunately we didn’t get a second heat but we had a great time, actually beat one of the men’s teams, and most importantly I got to practice driving the bigger, faster sled. Due to that result, it has recently been confirmed that I will get to pilot the second Canadian sled we are entering in the inaugural race on February 21st.
After the last morning 4-person race we packed up the sled trucks and headed 600km North to Altenberg, Germany. The track is hidden in a sparsely populated area just 25km from the Czech Republic boarder, and it has a nasty reputation. It is extremely technical and is considered one of the toughest tracks in the world just to make it to the bottom on all 4 runners. Regardless of it’s reputation, the track is still a regular stop on the European and World Cup tours, so we are going to have to learn it eventually. Even though there is no race here this week, our coaches decided to utilize our time here to get experience on the track without the pressure of performing. We started at lower starting points to learn the curves at the bottom at lower speeds, and once we got comfortable we moved up to the top. In general, I am extremely glad we had this opportunity. Next year when we come back for a race week there will be less anxiety and stress about learning the track and it will be easier to transition to have a competitive race. In the bobsleigh community, you are considered to be a brave and talented pilot if you have conquered Altenberg!
Today is my first full day off since we’ve arrived. As much as I wish I could go sight-seeing, theres a massive snow storm outside so instead I am taking a full day of rest and relaxation and already have my attention switched to St. Moritz, Switzerland. We leave tomorrow to the birthplace of bobsleigh, and the only remaining natural ice track in the world. Kasha and I will be competing in the last Europa Cup race of the season against around 20 women’s sleds. Again, the Canadian girls will be the only competitors who haven’t slid on this track yet in our careers, so hopefully we can learn it quick!
If you have caught any of the North American World Cup races in the last few weeks (or today in Whistler), it may be confusing as to why we are not racing in them. Especially in Whistler, it seems silly that Canada is only entering one Canadian representative (Kaillie Humphries) on the home track. I can assure you that although I am positive that I would do really well in the small 8 sled race, my coaches are not worried about top World Cup finishes this year, and the goal is still to peak for the 2018 Olympic Games. In order to do that I simply have to get some experience on these European tracks. The extremely good news is that I have qualified for the World Championships, and will actually get to compete this year! The 2-woman race is a 4 heat race over 2 days on February 12th and 13th in Igls, Austria. I will send a link and more info as soon as I know about what time CBC will be broadcasting it.
That's all I have to report for now. Again, thank you so much for your continued support…I wouldn’t be here doing what I love without it! I’ve included some pictures (Learning the Track, At the Podium, 4 Woman Team) . Feel free to share with anyone who is interested for updates!
All the best…Go Canada!