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How London Olympian Alex Kopacz got his unlikely start in bobsleigh

London athlete Alex Kopacz will compete at the Pyeongchang Olympics in the two-man and four-man bobsleigh competitions.

The 28-year-old athlete, who was born and raised in London, will compete in two-man and four-man bobsleigh

Alex Kopacz with teammate Justin Kripps in Altenberg, Germany, where they won gold in two-man bobsleigh at at World Cup race earlier this month. (Olympic.ca)

Growing up in London, Alex Kopacz would always watch the Olympics with his family.

But did he envision himself one day representing Canada?

"Oh never," Kopacz said.

"When you watch the Olympics, you see young athletes. You think oh I didn't start early enough, I don't have a chance."

Kopacz will get his chance at the Pyeongchang Olympics in the two-man and four-man bobsleigh competitions.

The 28-year-old started bobsledding five years ago, when he was competing in an entirely different sport — shot put — at Western University.

It was by fluke that he traded in his shot put ball for a speed track.

From shot put to bobsleigh

Kopacz was at a Western track meet when a sprinting coach saw him run and recommended he check out bobsleigh.

From that point, Kopacz recalls it all moved very fast.

He attended a talent camp and then was invited to train with the national team.

Alex Kopacz has an incredibly varied background. He's a mechanical engineer who started out competing in varsity shot put and then switching gears to bobsleigh after a sprinting coach noticed his speed. (Olympic.ca)
Kopacz joined the World Cup circuit in 2014, earning a bronze two years later as part of a four-man crew in Lake Placid.

By that point, the London athlete had earned his degree in mechanical engineering.

He doesn't know any other engineers who are also Olympic bobsledders, but he says his professional background has helped him tremendously as an athlete.

"I've been able to apply it to sled mechanics," said Kopacz.

"As an athlete, I use the same approach to maximize my movements."

'Don't want to distract myself'

Kopacz is now training in Calgary, preparing for Pyeongchang.

He says a gold medal is certainly realistic and that's the team's goal, but he doesn't want to become too fixated on standing atop the podium.

"I don't want to distract myself from what I need to do," said Kopacz. 

He does try to visualize certain elements of the race. As the teammate who pushes the bobseld, he focuses on his start time and even writes it down. 

Kopacz doesn't only listen to a lot of music, he also loves making music. Growing up, he played in high school band and string groups. (Submitted by Alex Kopacz)

To stay grounded, Kopacz listens to music. 

The range of tunes is as divergent as his athletic background.

Mozart meets Korn

Kopacz begins his playlists with classical music for races.

It then modulates to fast-paced jams.

Think Mozart then some Coldplay and ending with Korn and Slipknot.

He says with a laugh that as of late he's been including a unique selection, a throwback track — 1988's Goodbye Horses by Q Lazzarus, which was featured in the film Silence of The Lambs.

"It's a cue to get our hips to move a certain way," said Kopacz.

On Friday Feb. 9, London Morning is taking the show on the road for an Olympic Opening Ceremony viewing party and live broadcast at Boler Mountarin.

Listen to the show, watch the Opening Ceremony, meet the London Morning crew and enjoy some coffee by a warm fire.

The first 100 people will get free CBC London mugs.

See you there!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea? julianne.hazlewood@cbc.ca

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