On a brilliant, late summer day in the Stampede City of Calgary, they are hard at work in a deep, dark place.
Inside one of the myriad buildings of the impressive new WINSPORT facility on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park, the most eclectic group of athletes one might ever encounter toils menacingly on a frozen runway.
They are massive people with hulking shoulders, bulging calves and impressive rear ends (gluteus maximus muscles) to die for.
They count themselves as football and rugby players. Some have been collegiate track stars and others alpine skiers. There's a former ballerina in their ranks. Sarah Reid won a skeleton bronze medal
at the World Championships in St. Moritz last season. She's short when it comes to stature but imposing nonetheless. She carries her sled around in a pink pillowcase her mother made with a hundred images of skulls tattooed on one side.
There's even a wild-eyed, Australian-born cricketer named Chris Spring who bounds constantly around and every once in a while explodes from his crouch to bang a wall beside an equally aggressive teammate.
These are the monsters in the Ice House.Fighting for Sochi spots
Canadian sliders are in the midst of the dog days of their training in the run up to the Sochi Olympics which are approaching with a furious momentum. It serves to heighten the tension in this ultra-competitive environment where motorcycle helmets, spiked shoes and grunts of extreme exertion resonate.
Although they've come from a variety of backgrounds to attempt to hitch a ride at the Olympics, these athletes are expected to produce medals in less than six months time, most notably in the sport of bobsleigh. Canada has the potential to qualify eight sleds for Sochi and while the pilots have, for the most part, been identified, the brakemen or workers will have to fight tooth and nail for a spot on the roster.
"You gonna try pushing one?" Emily Baadsvik of St. Stephen, N.B., hustles by. "We've got an extra helmet and spikes!"
Baadsvik, like the other women in camp, is all business. She knows that Heather Moyse, who rode to gold with Kaillie Humphries at the Vancouver Olympics, is back from injury, the Rugby Sevens World Cup, and a flirtation with track cycling, determined to reclaim her place in Canada 1. It means Humphries' current partner, Chelsea Valois, Baadsvik and Kate O'Brien will themselves be challenged mightily.
Good friends and bitter rivals is the relationship that exists here.
As for Humphries, once a technical skier and now the current star of international sliding as well as the reigning World champion, there's not much room for sentimentality or sensitivity in a gig like this.
"You have to move mass and push things," she shrugs. "Bobsleigh is definitely not the most 'princessy' of sports. Don't get me wrong, I love going shopping and getting my nails done but I also love to compete and I don't mind getting beat up in a sled."Aging 'King' has still got it
On the men's side, the man they call "King" is back.
Lascelles Brown is approaching his 39th birthday but is in impressive physical condition and insists he has not lost a step. Brown won Olympic silver in the two-man competition with Pierre Lueders in 2006 and then was part of the crew that helped pilot Lyndon Rush claim four-man bronze in Vancouver. He subsequently spent two years competing for Monaco before returning to the Canadian fold.
"You have some monsters out there," grins Brown, while leaning forward for emphasis. "Bobsleigh can be seen as an athletes' graveyard but I say when you come to this sport you've got to step it up."
The beneficiary of the battle for seats in his sled will be the man who drives, Lyndon Rush of Humboldt, SASK. A former university football standout, Rush has enjoyed recent success with Jesse Lumsden, once an NFL and CFL running back as well as the Hec Creighton winner as Canada's university grid iron player of the year.
Now Lumsden and Brown will vie for the position behind him in Sochi while Rush licks his chops at the competitive environment bobsleigh creates.
"I've loved learning about my craft all these years," Rush figures. "But there's nothing like four angry men pushing a sled at mach schnell
when translated from German into English means, look lively or step it up. As Lascelles Brown says, there's no room for passengers on the road to the Olympics.A common goal
Meantime, the competition in the Ice House continues. This menagerie of sports men and women push, sprint, haul around the gigantic equipment and even sweep the track clean. Every once in awhile one of them darts out to the parking lot where a single massage table has been set up and the therapist tries to knead the kinks out.
After her furious trip down the track pilot Jenny Ciochetti takes a long swig from a bottle filled with disgusting, fluorescent, pink fluid. "Branch chain amino acids," Ciochetti explains. "Sometimes I blend in a few green veggies and it tastes really nasty."
The Aussie, Chris Spring chuckles as he walks by Ciochetti. He once raced a kangaroo over 100 metres back home near Brisbane and loved playing rugby league before becoming a citizen of this country on July 1st of this year.
"What I love about this sport is that we all bring our diverse backgrounds together to work towards a common goal," he offers.
Quite clearly Spring, like the other denizens of the Icehouse, is bent on surviving this field of play to contend for gold in Canadian colours in Russia come February.
Back to accessibility links