By Woodard, Dale on February 14, 2020.
Taylor Austin is firmly in the driver’s seat.
The Lethbridge bobsleigh racer has steered that to a IBSF North American Cup title for both two-man and four-man bobsleigh for the 2019-20 season.
Competing in Lake Placid, New York, last month, Austin won six of eight races as well as the overall ranking ahead of Canadian teammate Jeff McKeen and American Nick Cunningham, who took second and third, respectively.
In the two-man bobsled, Austin beat out fellow Canadian Patrick Norton and Cunningham for the overall title, winning five out of eight races.
“This has definitely been the best year I’ve had,” said Austin, 30, who is ranked 11th in the world among 80 sleds and ranked second in Canada. “My team pushed great all week in training and we had a good training runs. When it came to the race everybody was super focused and we pushed well. I drove probably the best I ever have and it ended up being enough to win.”
He credited the team dynamic of Teodor Kostelnik and Mark Mlakar – who race both two- and four-man with Austin – as well as Samuel Giguere, Keefer Joyce and Cyrus Gray.
“They take care of things outside of the actual races so I can focus on the actual driving and getting us all down safe and as fast as possible,” said Austin.
“It’s those guys having my back and me having their back. It makes a huge difference. I’ve had some great breakmen and throughout the years, but this year we all kind of melded and had a great team dynamic and it allowed us to be a very good team this year.”
But once they hit the track it is Austin assuming total control.
“In two-man or four-man, once we both jump in everyone kind of stays still except for me in the front,” he said. “I’m piloting with pretty much just a couple of ropes and some bungees and a couple of handles. So it’s just by very small movements and controlling the sled and putting it on a very fine line to go as fast as we can. Once we cross the finish line the guy in the back pulls the brakes and stops us.”
The dual honour wraps up Austin’s seventh year of competing internationally.
A season typically starts with on-ice training in late-October before the competitive season starts in November.
“There are four tracks in North America, but unfortunately the Calgary track is temporarily closed. There is one in Whistler, B.C. Park City Utah and one in Lake Placid. Between those tracks there are eight races for the competitive season.”
A regular week of competition includes three days of training runs and usually one day off, said Austin.
“Then there’s the two-man race on one day and a four-man race on the next day. Then we pack it all up and move it to the next stop.”
It was through his football playing days that Austin was introduced to bobsleigh.
“I started up with the provincial team and we’re here today winning races.”
The transition from the gridiron to sliding was a smooth one.
“It was actually an easy transition,” said Austin. “Most bobsledding athletes come from football and track and field and rugby, those power sports. Most of the training coming from football is actually very similar.”
Fresh off his dual-titles, some downtime is on the immediate slate for Austin.
“I’m just going to take some time off to rest the body and the mind and get everything settled for next year,” he said. “Then I’ll start with physical training, spring training, weight training and trying to get as strong explosive and fast as possible. We’re fortunate in Calgary in that we have Ice House Training, like an indoor push track that is fully refrigerated and has ice on it. So it’s a replication of what the start will be and that usually opens in the beginning of July. So in July we will get in there and start practising our pushes and starts as a team.
“It’s a full-time thing. Between training and recovery and therapy and when the season starts we are travelling full-time and competing full-time.”
Back in Calgary where he resides. the homecoming was warm when Austin returned last month.
“I kept on getting calls and messages from my family saying how proud they are and I’m really grateful to have them support me as well. It’s kind of a two-way street. It’s great to give back to them for supporting me through all these years.”
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