The success of any athlete often hangs on personal belief that they can succeed, but British bobsledder Greg Cackett has taken that to another level as his team - led by pilot Brad Hall - prepare for the Winter Olympics, where they will be genuine medal contenders.
The squad have just finished the World Cup season, coming fourth overall in the 4-man event and fifth in the 2-man. In each discipline, they claimed silver three times and bronze once, making them one of the most feared sleds on the circuit.
Cackett is Hall’s right-hand man as the brakeman for the four-man sled and he has been key to developing the team to the point they have got to. Like many bobsledders, he also found his route into the sport after a career in sprinting was ended by injury. But he has confidence to succeed, helped by having trained under Linford Christie, and he has a unique way to harness that.
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“I'm a dreamer, for sure,” Cackett told Eurosport, on visualising winning an Olympic medal.
“I would love to preach about taking it each race as it comes and not putting the pressure on but I kind of thrive off it. I am somebody who puts his head in the clouds and pictures those great moments.
“I'm actually writing a book at the moment, it's more just a personal catharsis. I've written it as an Olympic champion, as an Olympic medallist - I'm writing it as if I've done this thing.
I think, depending on how you're wired, it can either make or break you pressure wise, for me, it helps me walk the walk. I talk the talk in my head, I keep it all person, but I carry myself like I'm an Olympic champion.
“I believe it's there for me, and I can do it. That's strong because of how much I believe in Brad and the team. I just believe it's going to happen.”
Injuries played havoc with the team last year, just as more sponsors were starting to come on board. These bobsledders are unfunded by UK Sport - a situation which will surely change in the next four year cycle following their success on the circuit - and so athletes have had to supplement their careers with second jobs.
Now they have a fully fit squad and the kit and sleds to match their talent. It has made a huge difference and put them among the favourites to place on the podium in Beijing, which is all the more remarkable as there are no sliding tracks in the UK - a drawback skeleton has also defied. The team are taken seriously by rivals on tour and the expectation level has changed.
"Our stature has risen to the point where if we're not on the podium, it's really frustrating. The target used to be top six, now it's top three,” said Cackett.
“Our rivals definitely see us differently. I'm quite friendly with most of the circuit, I run an online platform supporting international bobsledders. know a lot of the guys and I've become quite friendly with the top crew - Francesco Friedrich's team, and one of them, Thorsten Margis - a double Olympic champion - came over to me after we beat them recently and he was like 'you were so lucky, the snow came down and that's why you won!' - but I was like, 'we're in your head!’
“They see us as a credible threat. In Germany, they have a very advanced programme with their technology and their kit and everything.They're also amazing athletes. But when you think of it, it’s a miracle that we’re even contending with our backgrounds.
“China is a leveller. Apart from the home nation having the advantage that is. We want it really bad.”
Another source of success is that the athletes have gelled well since coming together. There is a feeling that every member of the team has each other’s back. Cackett says it helps that they all love bobsleigh as much as they do.
“I think what's special about us is that we've finally got a group of lads who really care about the sport, and really care about each other,” he said.
"We recognise and respect what the others have sacrificed to be where we are. Because, and this is a key point and I don't want to dwell on the lack of funding, but it's just a fact. That presents enormous challenges for us, and particularly for the guys who aren't military personnel like myself. It is a huge sacrifice.
When you work that hard for something, it means something so much more than just yourself. When you've got guys who buy into that, where it's not just about what they're doing for themselves, when you get a collective identity like that, it's a special thing.
“When you've got a pilot who's as pedantic as Brad, you have a guy who you navigate and negotiate any corner for him.
“We've really instilled and developed a winning brotherhood in the team. I'm 100% convinced it's the culture we've instilled that has led to the high performance now, because we've basically given everyone the tools to express themselves.”
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