Competition crucial for Anderson's crews
Competition for places and consistency in championship performance means British Bobsleigh Performance Director Gary Anderson is in understandably high spirits ahead of the new season.
Despite being at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to performing on the ice given the climate and facilities in the UK, Anderson and his team finished fifth at the recent World Championships in Winterberg - the third time they have narrowly missed out on a medal at a global event over the past three seasons.
It’s a massive improvement from Anderson’s first season in charge five years ago when expectations, and ultimately achievements, were substantially lower.
“In the first World Championships that I presided over in Germany in 2011 we were hoping for a top 20 finish, and we didn’t get it. That shows just how far we’ve come,” said Anderson, whose squad meet at Loughborough University in mid-May for their first summer camp.
“The highlight from last season was the World Championships where we again achieved a fifth-place finish. That was hugely satisfying. It was a similar story for the World Championships in 2013 and the Olympics in 2014, and there aren’t many nations that can claim those sort of results.
“We were only beaten by three German sleds and a Latvian sled in Winterberg so it shows exactly where Great Britain are at the moment - it shows that we can challenge the very best.”
The fact that the challenge was mounted without their first-choice pilot from the 2014 Olympics at the helm, John Jackson, makes the achievement even more impressive and gives Anderson greater grounds for optimism ahead of the winter.
Lamin Deen led the team in Winterberg and jumped fully 14 places from his showing with GB2 in Russia 12 months earlier, with that result now leaving Anderson and his coaching team with a selection headache as pre-season training gets underway.
“When I first started in this job in 2010, everybody told me that the secret to success within British Bobsleigh would be to have internal competition,” added Anderson. “We’ve now got two four-man pilots in John Jackson and Lamin Deen who are capable of being in the top five in the world.
“Lamin was 19th in the Olympic Games and I was expecting him to be a top 10 finisher at the World Championships. If we’d have come away with that, I’d have been satisfied. But the nearer it got to the competition, something just changed with the mood in the camp and the approach of the athletes and all the staff. Everybody realised, ‘heh, we’ve got a chance here’. Great Britain don’t have a good history at the Winterberg track but something just clicked in the lead up. We were in with a shout of a medal right up until the last run.
“We are now in a position where we’ve got to make some tough decisions in selection going forward into this coming season. We’ve got a real tussle on our hands to see who will be the driver for GB1, with two very credible pilots. Either one could go to the World Championships and win a medal.”
So what next then for Anderson and his athletes? The answer is a simple one: keep improving and keep striving for a place on the podium. As for the ‘how’, that’s also surprisingly straightforward: start fast, start fast, start fast.
“We need to maintain the trajectory that we are on and we have to remain as one of the fastest starting crews in the world. That’s the key to success.
“We’ll keep developing the pilots and we’ll keep developing the equipment, but we could have the best pilots in the world and the best equipment in the world yet if we are not the fastest starters in the world, we’re not going to win. I’ll be looking at the World Championships, not just at the finishing position, which is clearly the most important position, but also at where we rank at the start.
“Ultimately, it’s all about 2018 and winning a medal in PyeongChang. And I genuinely believe Great Britain can do that.”