Bobsleigh – a sport where teams of two or four hurtle down an ice tube in a bullet-shaped sled – might not be the obvious sport of choice for those who grew up in southern England, an area which, for all its charms, is somewhat lacking the pre-requisite snow and ice.
But for three enterprising Brunel Olympians – Toby Olubi, Brad Hall and Montell Douglas – such hurdles are just there to be overcome.
Toby Olubi, Brakeman, four-man bobsleigh
All Olympians will have their own tale of how they made it to their first games. For many, it’ll be a well-trodden story of up-at-dawn practice and years of trial and tribulation. For others, it’ll be a yarn of good fortune and being in the right place at the right time.
For alumnus Toby Olubi, however, it’s a story of getting shot out of a cannon on national television.
Although bobsleigh is funded by the National Lottery and UK Sport, Toby only receives a nominal salary from the sport he’s competed in since 2013, despite having to train five days a week.
In order to order to help fund himself – Britain’s bobsleighers are expected to pay for their own travel, accommodation and equipment – Toby took on a teaching post, but soon found it impossible to commit to alongside six months of training each year.
“I had to find a financial solution for the best way to secure the funds in a short period of time,” says Toby, 31, who studied Economics and Politics. “Game shows were the answer.”
First came The Cube, where Toby banked £10,000 before painfully seeing it slip through his fingers again just moments later. Then came Deal or No Deal, where Toby held his nerve against the Banker to take home £12,000.
And then finally came Can’t Touch This, where the 6’4” Toby was bundled into a cannon and fired 40 feet into the air.
“As a 110kg guy, I’ve never been so vulnerable!” jokes Toby.
However unusual his funding method, it worked, with Toby now due to make his Olympic debut in the four-man competition.
“Proud is an understatement,” says Toby. “I feel fantastic, bombastic, ecstatically astounded – for all my old-skool garage fans.
“It's honestly an honour and one I don't take lightly. The older I get, the more attention I put towards what I leave behind to the next generation, and a story of perseverance is what I'm hoping to give – essentially what it means to be British.
“The Olympics, being the highest of all attainment in sport, has always been a dream of mine and I want to show people that with hard work your dreams are reachable.”
Competition begins on Saturday 24 February at 00.30 GMT
Brad Hall, Driver, two-man and four-man bobsleigh
Armed with nothing but their wits, athleticism and a piece of rope for steering, the role of a bobsleigh driver is to get their team from the top of the track to the bottom in as little time as possible.
“Back in the day, the person who was the best driver would go at the front, and the best pusher would go at the back,” says Brad, 27, who first joined the British bobsleigh team in 2012.
“But what we’ve tried to do over the past four years is to put the best athlete in the front seat as well. You have to have all the same physical capabilities as the brakeman, but you’ve also got to drive down the track.”
Striving to be the best athlete has been a common theme for Brad. After taking up sport at the age of 14 to stop him misbehaving in school, he quickly discovered a talent for rugby and athletics, in which he set a national record in decathlon and achieved a top-five ranking in the under-23s discus.
“That’s the main reason I came to Brunel – to do sports science and train for the decathlon,” said Brad, “then one day I saw that UK Sport were recruiting for a number of different sports.”
“Originally I got through to the skeleton – the one where you go down head first. I got down to the last ten, and we went out to Lillehammer in Norway, but I couldn’t keep my head off the ice, so could barely see on my way down. I didn’t get through to that programme.
“But then I got a call saying that bobsleigh was doing a trial. I did a bit of testing for them, and just about made it through.”
After making his way through the ranks, Bradley now finds himself in the driving seat for Team GB’s two-man bobsleigh, and one of Team GB’s two four-man bobsleighs –on the same team as fellow alumni Toby, but competing against him too.
“There’s certainly a healthy rivalry,” says Brad.
“Both four-man teams got medals on the World Cup circuit this year, so we know we have what we need to compete.
“We’re not really fighting for anything within the team, but obvious we’d like to be the better of the two!”
Competitions begin on Sunday 18 February at 20.05 (two-man) and Saturday 24 February at 00.30 (four-man) GMT
Montell Douglas, Brakeman, two-man bobsleigh
Women’s reserve team racer Montell Douglas, who studied sport science, is the first British woman ever to be selected for the Summer and Winter Olympics in different sports, having previously competed at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing in both the 100m and 4x100m sprints. The only previous British woman to compete in both flavours of Olympics was Ethel Muckelt in the 1920s, back in an era when figure skating was a fixture of both.
Having already had a stellar athletics career, which saw Montell win a Commonwealth Gold at the 2010 Delhi games and break the British record in the 100m, she switched to bobsleigh in 2016, before making her competitive debut in mid-2017.
After a top-10 finish on her World Cup debut, Montell finished 7th at an event in St Moritz, before securing a Europa Cup victory shortly after. That success, just two weeks after making her debut in the sport, gave Britain its first Europa Cup gold in seven years.
Competition begins on Tuesday 20 February at 11.50 GMT
Follow Toby, Brad and Montell’s journey on BBC TV, radio and online,
Toby (left) and Brad (Right) will face off against each other in the Four-Man Bobsleigh
Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
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