ASHLEIGH Werner is experiencing an incredible ride as part of the Australian women’s bobsleigh team that has begun a three-month quest to qualify in the two-person discipline for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Based in Canada for the second northern winter in a row, the 25-year-old Sydneysider told The AJN last week the rate of improvement by the team after a month of intense training at Whistler has been remarkable.
And a better-than-expected 8th place out of 13 in the first race of the North American Cup on November 5 has given them an early confidence boost.
“It’s amazing to see the progress since last year, when our runs were messy and we were lucky to get down to the bottom most of the time,” Werner said.
“Last month [during a developing nations training camp] was the first time we had properly loaded [completed the whole course from the top at maximum speed] as a team.
“I clearly remember standing at the start dock thinking, oh my gosh, we are about to load for the first time ever on the fastest, hardest track in the world – it was surreal.”
Barely a week later, Werner [as brakeman] and the team’s chosen pilot, Bree Walker, achieved their biggest milestone yet – a top-10 finish in their first international race of the Winter Olympics qualification season at Whistler.
“There aren’t any words to describe the feeling of standing at the start blocks with ‘Australia’ written across your back,” Werner said.
“I know it can be easy to get overwhelmed, especially in a sport like this, and I wanted to make sure I was focused and ready.
“To be honest, most of it was a bit of a blur.
“I remember telling my pilot ‘you’ve got this, let’s do it’, because two sleds before us had crashed, and then we were away.
“We ticked every box we were looking for – achieving personal bests for start time, down time [55.5 seconds], top speed [140.1 km/h] – I don’t think we could have asked for more.”
Walker, Werner and fellow brakeman Mikalya Dunn will now focus on earning as many competition points in international races as possible between now and mid-January, when the top 16-ranked teams from around the world will be finalised and automatically qualify for the Winter Olympics, which begin in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“We’re now in Calgary preparing for two races this week, then we head straight to Park City in Utah to race on November 28, and then Europe to hit some races before, hopefully, heading to South Korea.
“It’s going to be a big few weeks for us, but I’m so excited for what’s to come.”