When Mica McNeill and Jazmin Sawyers won silver medals at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Innsbruck 2012, the British duo looked destined for big things in bobsleigh.
Jazmin Sawyers has since swapped ice for sand by turning her attention to long jump, but McNeill has progressed to become Team GB’s lead female bobsleigh driver, and will be aiming for a medal when she makes her full Olympic debut in PyeongChang alongside namesake and brakewoman Mica Moore. Here, the 24-year-old reveals how her experiences at the YOG laid the foundation for her development into a world-class athlete
It’s been more than five years since you competed at the Winter YOG Innsbruck 2012. How do you reflect on those experiences?
It was the first-ever Winter YOG, and going there as an 18-year-old was definitely the most fun sporting experience I’ve ever had. As soon as you get to senior level you have targets, there are pressures, and you start to expect more of yourself. But I was at the YOG with people my own age, and there wasn’t a lot of pressure to get results – the focus was on enjoying the sport.
What did winning a medal in Innsbruck do for your career?
I got involved in bobsleigh in 2010, but I didn’t go on ice until 2011 – so I’d only done a matter of weeks of bobsleigh before the YOG. I didn’t know what to expect going into the competition, but I picked it up quickly and it paid off! The silver medal set me up nicely to get into the senior Team GB squad – so that result alone has allowed me to have a future in the sport.
Did the YOG help you develop a love for bobsleigh and winter sports?
My success at the YOG – and the fun of the competition – gave me a taste of what could come, and I wanted to experience that again. Even being able to watch the other winter sports made it seem like so much more than a regular sporting event.
Have you stayed in touch with any of the other athletes you met in Innsbruck?
I’ve watched [British freestyle skier] Katie Summerhayes’ progress since the YOG, and obviously Jazmin’s [Sawyers] as well. We don’t usually see YOG athletes from other sports, but it’s nice to follow their journeys because we started at the same time.
Do you think the YOG can continue to evolve as a key phase in the development of young Olympic hopefuls?
Definitely. It gives younger athletes the opportunity to perform on a world stage. Right now, if an 18-year-old walked into our bobsleigh programme, they wouldn’t be able to get [selected for] competitions – but the YOG allows you to practise competing against international athletes, which is really important for your senior career.
How have you adapted to life as an elite athlete?
We have a very busy programme; we train six days a week and a number of those are two sessions a day, so when you’re finished you just try your hardest to recover so that you can get the most out of the next day. If I do have any down time, I love to go home and spend time with family and friends. It’s calm in the summer because we don’t go anywhere – and last summer I was just in England training – but I do love when winter comes and we’re moving around, and it’s that busy lifestyle. I really enjoy it.
How did the last winter season go from your perspective, and what was it like to win the world junior title?
It was amazing. Before that, the YOG silver medal was my career highlight, but now I have to say it’s winning the World Junior Championships in Winterberg (Germany), because that much more time, effort and hard work went into the result. Mica [Moore] only got involved in the summer of 2016, so it’s amazing how quickly she’s progressed and picked up the sport – and I think there’s still so much more to come, because we’re such a new team.
What are your future goals in bobsleigh?
I want to make sure I keep improving from the previous year, and if I do that I think the results will take care of themselves. Right now, PyeongChang 2018 is the goal – I want to get to the Republic of Korea and really show what I can do. In PyeongChang, a medal would be a huge result and we have chance – but at Beijing 2022, I’d expect a medal from myself. I’ll be 27, which would be the right age as I’d be at my peak physically, and I’d have that much more experience.
Do you think your experiences at the YOG have helped you feel more prepared for PyeongChang 2018?
It has definitely helped. I feel like I know what to expect, just from feeling that YOG vibe and knowing the schedules, processes and how the Olympic Games work. I can’t wait!