Dustin MacPherson’s need for speed has earned him a rare place in Australian sport — selection in the men’s bobsleigh squad about to compete at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi this Saturday night.
While overlooked for a starting place, the 29-year-old Glenbrook native travelled to Sochi on February 2 as the reserve athlete for the four-man discipline. This followed impressive performances during Australia’s successful 11-race Olympic qualifying campaign, including World Cup races last month in Germany and Austria, where the Aussies finished 25th.
After moving to the Canadian city of Calgary in 2006, the St Columba’s High School graduate discovered the popular winter Olympics sport commonly referred to as ‘Formula One on ice’ by chance in 2010.
Playing rugby for provincial Canadian club Alberta, MacPherson (pictured) and teammate Heath Spence decided to go to the nearby bobsleigh course after training one day.
There they met fellow Australian and bobsleigh Olympian Chris Spring who encouraged them to try the sport, which involves athletes travelling on a sled at pace around tight bends and at up to 135km/h along straights.
Needless to say, MacPherson was hooked.
“It was just the adrenalin rush of going down the hill that did it — basically a roller-coaster ride on steroids,” he told the Gazette from Sochi on Monday.
“I never really competed at a timed sport before and I love trying to beat the clock.”
MacPherson said his job as the reserve athlete in the 29th-ranked Australian team was to jump into the sled whenever necessary during the team’s final preparations in order to rotate the team and keep everyone as fresh as possible for the races.
“Coming from a rugby background, I needed to try to become a technically better sprinter, so I do lots of sprint drills and also do power lifting and plyometrics to work on explosive starts.
“As a brakeman, my specific role is to move the sled as fast as possible within the first 30m, jump in, hold on and the rest is up to the pilot.”
The starting team for the four-man bobsleigh squad is Heath Spence (pilot), Gareth Nichols, Lucas Mata and Duncan Harvey.
When quizzed about whether gaining selection in the Australian squad to compete at Sochi was ever a realistic personal goal, MacPherson answered, “if you asked me this question two years ago I would have said no”.
“But Heath told me in early January 2013 I have a legitimate chance to go to the Olympic Games, and basically from then onwards I stopped playing rugby and did anything I could to get myself in this position.”
MacPherson said being a self-funded national team had its difficulties on the world bobsleigh circuit, but the team was confident of improving its world ranking.
“In Sochi we are looking to get Australia’s best result.
“Always our goal is top 20.”