HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Once again, the Winter Olympic Games have come into view for bobsleigh athlete Cody Sorensen of Ottawa.
He had that vision for the first time in 2010, but the Canadian crew piloted by Lyndon Rush was denied a chance to compete in a critical World Cup race and the Americans seized that final Olympic berth.
At the 2014 Sochi Games, Justin Kripps’ sled crashed going 140 kilometres an hour during the second of four runs in the four-man competition. The Canadian sled slid upside down across the finish line. Sorensen left the track with a concussion and his Games were over.
Four years later in Pyeongchang, Sorensen attended the Games solely as a spectator… with a few perks. After being invited to a Korean BBQ dinner with the original 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team and receiving a ticket to the final two runs of the men’s two-man competition that night, he watched Kripps and brakeman Alex Kopacz win the gold medal from the IOC spectator box.
As for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Sorensen has returned to the track, made the Canadian World Cup team in four-man and next week will have his first international race in seven years and nine months.
The Olympics are once again in his sights.
“It has been a long time. There’s a certain level of anxiousness. I hope I still like it,” a smiling Sorensen, 35, said in a phone interview two days before leaving for Innsbruck, Austria.
“In a normal season, we would have been on the ice one or two months before the World Cup kickoff. But because of COVID, the first time I’ll be in a sled will be World Cup week in Austria.”
And that time also will be limited compared to previous years. Instead of multiple training runs in advance of the weekend races, Sorensen will only have three practice runs with pilot Chris Spring before their Nov. 21 four-man race.
During his nearly eight-year absence from the national team bobsleigh program, Sorensen remained connected to the sport in other ways. Since 2013, he has sat on the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton board of directors as the bobsleigh athlete representative. If a World Cup race came to Lake Placid, he’d make the trip. During the World Cup season, he’d get up early on the weekends to watch the live races on YouTube.
Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, just around Christmas 2020, Sorensen had a game-changing moment.
“I was working long hours, long days and my fitness was not good,” he explained. “I bought a high-speed treadmill and set it up in the garage. My goal was to lose 15 pounds. I was diligent with a couple runs a day and some body weight exercises.
“The real catalyst was Chris Spring. He made a trip to Ottawa and we said wouldn’t it be cool to do it one more time, one final lap at the World Cup and Olympics. I was motivated, encouraged and it cranked up the focus. That weekend turned my perspective around.”
The pandemic also was helpful. Sorensen was working from home at his job as the director of mergers and acquisitions for Welch Capital Partners and his training equipment was only 50 feet away in another room.
“Philosophically, for someone in their mid 30s and Chris in his late 30s (37), it would be a cool way to show the rest of the world that you don’t have to be a young buck to go after your dreams,” he reasoned.
In July, Sorensen registered for the Bobsleigh Canada national team testing sessions and travelled to Calgary in September for his final exams. Sprint speed was important, but not as important as the sled push tests.
“I was second slowest in the sprint tests (out of 18). It wasn’t a good start,” he admitted.
In the sled push tests at the Ice House training venue, Sorensen took a giant, positive step, posting the fourth best time from the right side.
“I still had the technique and power to push,” he added. “For sprinting, I wasn’t able to spend enough time on the track, but my pushing was good.”
After competing in his first Olympics almost eight years ago, Sorensen has found himself in a different personal world as he makes a comeback to the sport.
“I felt like a nomad,” he said about being a full-time high-performance athlete in the early 2010s. “There was no home base and it was easier to pick up and hit the road.
“Now, I have a full-time job with clients, who I have to transition off. I’ll be gone from home for three months. I’ll have to get snow removal. I’ve got a lot more to get prepared.”
Once Sorensen gets to Europe, he can focus on being an elite athlete again and ease back into the game.
“I don’t feel like a bobsledder yet,” he said. “I have to make sure I mentally prepare, visualize and get ready to go. There are benefits, too. I’ll have additional support. I have income from my job from the last few years.
“I still feel like I’m in the twilight zone now. It doesn’t seem real yet.”
Sorensen expects he will ride behind the driving of Spring with Ottawa’s Mike Evelyn and former professional football player Sam Giguère. Spring is chasing his fourth consecutive Olympics and eyeing his first Winter Games medal to accompany a two-man silver medal at the 2019 world championships.
“I’m not taking the risk of a comeback to be a tourist on the World Cup or in the Olympics,” he said meaningfully. “As a crew, our expectations are high. Top 10 is not good. Top three to five is our focus. It will take one or two races to get our rhythm and comfort level back.”
Canada expects to send two sleds to the Olympics for both the two-man and four-man events.
“I have not committed to a comeback if I didn’t see an opportunity to go to the Games,” he said.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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