Phylicia George bounced around like a bobblehead on her first trip down the Whistler track, tossed out of her comfort zone at 120 kilometres an hour.
It was an inauspicious bobsled debut for the two-time Olympic hurdler, who is hoping to make the successful jump to the winter sport for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
“I’m going to be totally honest … I actually hated it my first run down,” George said laughing. “People tried to explain to me ‘This is what it’s going to feel like,’ but you have to just experience it to know. I didn’t sit in the sled low enough so I was getting whipped around like crazy, my neck was killing me after.”
George, fellow hurdler Nikkita Holder, and Canada’s rugby sevens captain Jen Kish were among athletes recruited to try bobsled by two-time Olympic gold medalist Kaillie Humphries.
George did well at initial testing in Calgary, and the 29-year-old from Markham, Ont., made the trip to Whistler earlier this month where she was quick to discover that racing down a track of ice requires a completely different skill set – such as being a human shock absorber.
“I got out and said ‘Oh my gosh, it was so bumpy,’ and Kaillie was like ‘No, it was a pretty smooth ride,’” George said from Baton Rouge, La., where she’s back training for the upcoming track and field season. “But when we looked at the video, we were like ‘Oh. Okay. You’re sitting way too high.’” Each run was incrementally better.
“I think when you’re in the sled and it’s your first time going down, you’re so disoriented, because you just feel yourself whipping in half,” George said. “But by my fourth time down, I could kind of feel each turn, and I knew what a corner felt like. And I thought ‘Oh, this is nothing.’ I was totally comfortable in the sled once I was a little more aware of where I was and what was happening.”
Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton is no stranger to recruiting top talent from other sports. Last season, it was Olympic hurdles medalist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep.
George, who was sixth at the 2012 London Olympics and eighth last summer in Rio in the 100-metre hurdles, plans to compete in track until 2020.
But bobsled, she believes, can complement her track training. And she welcomes a new challenge.
“When I went to Calgary and I was learning, that’s what I liked about it, I liked doing something new and being challenged in a way I haven’t been challenged in a long time,” George said. “I’m still trying to get better at the hurdles, I’m still trying to be a better sprinter, but I’ve been doing it for years now. Me making the decision to run to 2020, I knew that I wanted to do something to break up the monotony of all that.”
George finds both the similarities and differences between the two sports appealing. It’s quantitative like track – fastest time wins.
“You’re working towards being faster. So I like that competitiveness about it,” she said. “I guess the one [difference] I like is the team aspect. It’s fun to work with other people, it’s fun to come together and say ‘Okay, we’re going to do this together.’” And the prospect of the Olympic podium is also a big draw. Humphries won two-man gold with Heather Moyse at both the 2010 Vancouver Games and four years later in Sochi.
“That’s super exciting, potentially getting in and going with [Humphries],” George said. “I do need to earn my spot, but I really believe, I was pushing really well with not really good technique and no real strengths behind me and not really doing the sport.
“And I think that’s why she was also really excited about what she saw as well, because there’s so much room for improvement, and I was picking up things really fast.”
Bobsled has a history of capitalizing on athletes in power sports. Sprinter Glenroy Gilbert and CFL player Jesse Lumsden are Olympians in bobsled.
U.S. track stars Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones both competed in bobsled at the Sochi Games.
Jones, a hurdler who was fourth in the London Olympics, told Team USA of her bobsled debut: “It felt like someone put me in a can and threw me off of Mt. Everest.”
George said there is push testing several times a year, and “based on those testings, they’ll choose who is going to be in what sled, and Kaillie has some discretion about who she wants to push with as well.
“But it’s really going to be a numbers game, very similar to track,” she said. “Make the standard, be the best and you go.”Report Typo/Error