Brad Hall showed why his bobsleigh team are considered Britain’s best at the weekend, starting the World Cup season with two silvers as the build-up to the Beijing Olympics really kicks into gear.
From here until the Games, Hall’s men have a packed schedule and if Innsbruck is anything to go by, both the two-man and four-man squads will be a force to be reckoned with - but getting this far has not been easy.
On Saturday, Hall and Greg Cackett followed up their silver from an Olympic test event to earn the same in the two-man World Cup, and one day later the four-man team matched that result. This is no fluke, and from here the momentum will surely build.
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But British bobsleigh has had a rocky time. The governing body’s board has come through an investigation into allegations of racism and bullying (an independent report did not uphold the claims), but it has also been hit by misfortune and potentially paid the price for being cheated out of a medal at Sochi 2014.
The men’s four man team at that Games were eventually upgraded to bronze after two Russian crews were disqualified - but that was not confirmed until five years later. The model is changing, but UK Sport has previously made decisions on funding based on performances - who is to say there would not have been a greater investment had they not earned a place on the podium? To make matters worse, that bronze was only fully confirmed in March 2019 - around the same time as the British team lost all funding.
All of the bobsleigh athletes are now receiving some help to compete at events in the lead up to Beijing, but it is not enough to live off. Hall has demonstrated he has the talent, as do his team-mates Cackett (two-man and four-man), Nick Gleeson and Lawrence Taylor (both four man). But they have had to try and maximise their potential with a bit of entrepreneurial spirit.
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“After the 2019 World Championships in Whistler, we got the news that we're losing all our funding. So that was after I achieved a fourth place result at the World Champs in the two men, which is our best two men result for about 55 years - we still lost all our funding,” Hall told Eurosport.
“Since that moment, I've been trying to balance all these different jobs. I've been a performance director, a marketing manager, a sponsorship director, I've been organising the season, vehicles, logistics, absolutely everything. We're all doing a lot of jobs that we wouldn't necessarily be doing which kind of distracts us from being an athlete and being the best we can be.
“It's got a bit easier now, as it’s Olympic year, we've got some good sponsors on board and some good individuals backing us. So we're looking into the whole world cup season. We're looking to follow the World Cup all the way up to the Olympics to get as many points to qualify and give us a good seeding.
It's tremendously hard to find the funding, three weeks away in China (the test event), just to bring our two man team out there costs us close to £50,000. That's just three weeks of training and the whole season all together, we're getting close to the £100,000 mark. The large majority of that is through self funding.
Hall’s teams in particular look like genuine medal contenders ahead of Beijing, and UK Sport chair Katherine Grainger has been clear that the funding model is changing. No longer is it purely about performance - it is also about potential. Hall is trying to make good of the latter, and he can see better times ahead if they continue to podium.
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“I think this cash injection that we got from UK Sport is definitely a good sign that they're starting to trust the board and the management in British Bobsleigh now, I think maybe it's a bit of a trial run to see how things go up until the Games.
“If the results do come in at the Olympics, say we win a medal or to the Games, then I think it should be quite likely that there will be some source of funding coming in from UK Sport.
“Whether it's money that can fund the whole programme, or it will be some sort of medal support programme just for the medal winning team to go forward, I don't know. I'm trying not to think too far ahead, I've got to focus on this year, getting to the Olympics and doing well.”
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