HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
Event: 2-man & 4-man
Local Club: Nepean Raiders/Ottawa Jr. Senators hockey
Local Club: Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club
By Martin Cleary
HIGH ACHIEVERS BOUND FOR BEIJING SERIES (Part 5 of 5): In 2019, Cody Sorensen and Mike Evelyn didn’t know each other and the various aspects of being a bobsleigh athlete weren’t part of their daily lives either. And that’s totally understandable.
Sorensen, a 2014 Sochi Olympic four-man crew member whose team crossed the second-run finish line upside down, had been retired for five years, was restoring an old house he had purchased and working for Welch Capital Partners in Ottawa.
Evelyn, meanwhile, was a dedicated student-athlete, who played five seasons with the Dalhousie University men’s hockey team, graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and had started a job with Lockheed Martin.
So how is it Sorensen and Evelyn were respectively either drawn back to or pulled into for the first time the heart-pounding sport of bobsleigh, where they can ride a sleek four-man machine down a serpentine tunnel of ice in out-of-the-way places and live to tell their story a minute later?
And not only did they dig their spiked shoes into the best international courses, but also they’re going to feel the G forces on the Xiaohaituo Bobsleigh and Luge Track at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
The team of Sorensen, 32, Evelyn, 28, Sam Giguere of Sherbrooke, Que., 36, and long-time driver Chris Spring of Priddis, Alta., 37, have come together quickly in the past year and moved into a position to challenge for an Olympic medal in the four-man competition. Sporting an average age of 33.3 years, Spring’s Seniors Squad is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, sliding unit in their discipline.
Sorensen attended the 2018 PyeonChang Winter Olympics and had a blast as a spectator. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that he began to consider the possibility of a return to bobsleigh. As a retired athlete, he was worried about his fitness and wanted to get back into shape again.
Then Spring decided to visit Ottawa in the summer of 2020. He visited Sorensen and they chatted about this, that and everything bobsleigh. More seeds were sown. Spring wanted Sorensen to be a crew member on his 2022 Olympic four-man team and that got the Glebe Collegiate Institute grad thinking.
The final race of Sorensen’s bobsleigh career was something out of a horror show. That crash not only robbed him of the final two runs, but also left him with a concussion. He wanted to return to write a much better farewell chapter.
“If you asked me one year ago if I would be back on the national bobsleigh team, I would have said absolutely not. You were crazy,” Sorensen said about the start of his dedicated comeback bid.
Sorensen trained hard, attended camps, took a leave of absence with benefits from his job and joined the national team for the four-man racing season on the World Cup circuit. That’s where he met Evelyn.
A former forward with the Nepean Raiders and Ottawa Jr. Senators in the CCHL, Evelyn was just coming out of his university hockey career, when his sister suggested he give the RBC Training Ground program a try to see if his athletic talents were compatible with other sports.
Evelyn went through the round of testing on the Atlantic test day, but wasn’t selected to attend the national final and have a chance to be one of the 30 fully-funded RBC Future Olympians for two years.
But after his testing, he was approached by a Bobsleigh Skeleton Canada recruiter, who liked Evelyn’s test results.
“I was excited to try a new opportunity. I didn’t know anything about bobsleigh,” said Evelyn, who was ready to give it a try.
He caught on quickly and learned the ropes of the sport during the 2019-2020 season on the North American Cup circuit. For the past two seasons, he has been on Canada’s main national team competing on the World Cup circuit and at world championships.
One of the off-season athlete assessments is the push test, where athletes push an empty sled for a specific distance at the Ice House in Calgary. Evelyn is the best in Canada at that task. He holds the Canadian team record, whether pushing from the left or the right side, and has a best-ever time of 4.93 seconds.
Sorensen and Evelyn form half of Spring’s four-man team, which took most of the World Cup season to show its potential. Unable to crack the top 10 in their first five four-man races with placings ranging from 11th to 15th, Spring guided them to an eighth-place result in Winterberg, Germany, and a ninth at the final race on the natural ice of St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Those two top-10 results solidified a berth on Canada’s Olympic team, allowing Sorensen, Evelyn, Giguere and Spring to focus on the final four races of their careers at the Winter Games. The Olympic four-man competition is a two-day, four-run competition Feb. 19-20, the final two days of the Games, which start Feb. 4.
“We struggled early because of COVID and we weren’t able to put in a lot of time together for practices,” Sorensen said. “But our team is clicking and just steadily improving. Our confidence is as high as it has been all year.
“Our eyes are on a medal. It’s still realistic with this talented team. In 2014, my last run ever was a crash in an upside-down sled. This is a big win for me – to show I can do it again.”
Evelyn, who may have a better chance for a medal with Spring in the two-man competition Feb. 14-15 after a pair of fourth-place World Cup results this season, is upbeat about the team’s two top-10 four-man results at the end of the World Cup season.
“Some crews have been together for the whole quadrennial, but we haven’t been. I only started two years ago. But as a crew, we’ve got used to each other,” he said.
While Spring and Giguere have more than a decade’s worth of experience in the sport, Sorensen raced for five years on the World Cup circuit before stepping aside after the 2014 Olympics and Evelyn has brought some crucial start speed in his two years with the aging team.
“We’re all there for business,” Evelyn stated. “After this year, we won’t be a crew again. There’s no time to waste. We’ll be excellent all the time.”
When Evelyn is away from bobsleigh, he’s passionate about playing board games. He has more than 100 board games in his collection and every time he takes the lid off a box his competitive juices come to the forefront in a family match.
But he resisted bringing any board games on the World Cup tour. That’s understandable. He’s focused on success at the real Games.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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