2-time Olympic gold medallist Heather Moyse making bobsleigh comeback
Why does any successful athlete attempt to return to competition after reaching the pinnacle?
What is there to be gained from an encore performance by a woman who has been an Olympic champion not once, but twice?
When your chosen line of work is bobsleigh brakeman, it’s certainly not money or fame. There’s precious little of either to be had when you sit huddled in anonymity in the sled’s back seat and cling to the hope that you might rocket fleetingly into the spotlight once every four years.
But for Heather Moyse, 39, of Summerside, P.E.I., there’s something that compels her to give it a try, as she announced her comeback to the track on Monday night.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Moyse told CBC Sports.
So, just when I thought there were no more twists in my sports story… Pulled by the challenge to push the next genhttps://t.co/O9aKSGU1Z5
“It’s about investing in the future generation of athletes. Yes, my aim is to make the team. Ideally I’d like to make qualification, get in a sled and help a young driver succeed.”
Moyse won Olympic gold with pilot Kaillie Humphries at both the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics, and narrowly missed a third medal at her first Games when she pushed Helen Upperton to a fourth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, missing the podium by 5/100ths of a second.
Along the way, Moyse accumulated a bundle of track push start records at the finest bobsleigh venues in the world. Plus, she’s an accomplished rugby player and is one of a few Canadians to have been inducted to the international Rugby Hall of Fame.
Heather Moyse announces she is returning to bobsleigh competition2:07
Acknowledged to be the finest female brakeman in Canadian history, Moyse hasn’t trained on the ice track in 3½ years, but an August email from development driver Alysia Rissling of Edmonton caused her to rethink her future course.
“The trigger happened when I got the email from Alysia saying that I could be that experienced person who could provide guidance. That it was more than just a physical push but also something psychological … that I could bring to the table, the mental part of the game,” Moyse said.
“I had never met her, but I was intrigued by how passionate and determined she was. It made me think that a comeback is within the realm of possibility and if I can help — then I’m going to try.”
Not about reuniting with Humphries
There had been an approach earlier in the year from her former partner Humphries, but Moyse declined, figuring she had nothing left to prove by returning to a familiar situation. The fuel behind her renaissance is apparently not about a third consecutive gold medal.
It seemingly goes beyond the personal victory.
“I’m not motivated to do the same thing. My aim is not to be behind Kaillie in the Canada 1 sled,” Moyse stressed. “My whole business is about empowering young people. It’s about helping a rookie Olympian in potentially reaching the podium. I think it’s realistic. Sometimes we limit what we set out to do by what we convince ourselves is realistic. But I believe in possibilities and sometimes we have to redefine what is realistic.”
As it is with all comebacks, there are, of course, no guarantees.
Moyse has had hip surgery since the last Olympics and her rugby career took its toll, causing her to miss entire bobsleigh seasons between Olympic appearances.
Her back is chronically out of alignment and she’s got some catching up to do in order to compete with and perhaps surpass much younger athletes.
Still, based on the assessment of Bobsleigh Canada’s high-performance staff, she believes it’s worth trying to recapture a widely acknowledged ability to push a sled to remarkable velocity off the line.
“I believe this strengthens the chances for Canada,” Moyse figured. “But I have to be disciplined. Right now it’s a matter of me catching up with my power potential. This is the nature of high performance sport.”
In a sense, she’s answered the call. But in doing so, Moyse is bound to create a whole new environment in the Canadian camp just months away from the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Alysia Rissling, left, and Cynthia Appiah, right, are two Canadian athletes Moyse wants to help reach their full potential. (Canadian Press)
Although they have yet to experience the Olympics, brakemen Melissa Lotholz and Cynthia Appiah have both established themselves in the seat behind Humphries on the World Cup circuit, and at the world championships. And recently Canadian star hurdler Phylicia George is challenging for a spot in a sled once the Olympics in South Korea roll around.
Stirring the pot
While Moyse is slightly nervous about stirring the pot, she’s been able to justify the rationale behind her return to the fray.
“It’s never been an easy thing to do, to come in and compete for a job with somebody else,” she said.
“I think initially there will be a bit of hesitation and nervousness on the part of others. That’s natural. It’s tough but it’s a part of what it means to be an Olympic athlete. I hope it will spark some drive and a positive, competitive environment. This is about putting the best people together on the day and giving the country more chances to win.”
It’s not like this is the first time Moyse has attempted this. The situation was similar in the fall of 2013 before the last Games in Sochi. She showed up after recovering from shoulder injury and eventually turned an unlikely training camp appearance into another gold medal.
Her arrival at the Ice House in Calgary, where the sleds repeatedly rumble out of the start gate, is like a signal that things are getting serious. It’s an indication that the campaign is about to get underway in earnest.
“It’s all going to be real very soon,” Moyse said before catching her flight. “The opportunity to help in a totally different way is hugely motivating and an immense challenge. I hope by doing this I can convert that feeling into something really positive in the Olympic season.”
Perhaps that’s what’s driving this comeback effort.
When push comes to shove, Moyse wants to be someone who is more than just along for the ride.
Her aim is to help Canada’s future bobsleigh stars navigate their way to victory at the Olympics.