The heartbreak of not competing at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 drives Cynthia Appiah. After coming so close to achieving her ambition, the Canadian former bobsleigh brakewoman decided to quit the sport’s team event and take up the new Olympic winter discipline of monobob in an attempt to compete at Beijing 2022. She tells us why it is an exciting time to be at the cutting edge of her sport.
Cynthia Appiah’s coach calls her “Cynthipedia”. Such is the level of the bobsledder’s obsession with general knowledge and trivia, she is applying to appear on the long-running US game show Jeopardy.
“I absolutely love it. I’m an unabashed nerd,” she said. “I have so much information swimming through my head. If you have a question, I’ll probably have the answer. I’m determined to get on Jeopardy. It’s a dream.”
The quest to become a quiz champion, however, is currently taking a back seat to Appiah’s mission to become an Olympian – and to do so, she herself has moved from the back seat to the front.
Appiah was renowned for her pushing prowess in the start house as a brakewoman in the two-woman bob but is now combining that athletic ability with some sharp driving in sliding’s newest incarnation, monobob.
It is all part of a much-needed change of direction for the 29-year-old from Toronto, Canada.
After three years of intensive training, Appiah came horribly close to achieving her goal of competing at the Olympic Winter Games. But at PyeongChang 2018, she ended up travelling to the Republic of Korea as an unused reserve athlete.
“It was beyond heart-breaking,” she said. “There aren’t even words to describe the feelings I went through. At the end of the previous season, I’d done the test event in PyeongChang with Alysia Rissling and we’d finished third on that track.
“I’d then come into the Olympic season in the best shape I’d ever been in. But as the season progressed, things came into play that were beyond my control.
“It was very painful to see the Olympic dream that I thought I’d earned slip from my hands. Watching from the sidelines was very difficult. There wasn’t a day I didn’t cry but it showed me who I was.
“Once I’d been through that and picked up the broken pieces, I needed to decide what I wanted to do and what I was in bobsleigh for. I’m not happy I went through the experience but what I learned from it has made me better. I came back with a new mindset.”
With Beijing 2022 coming up, we’ve got a new track, a new sport. Being part of a new event, getting introduced to the Olympic Games, is such an opportunity. And the opportunity for women to have another medal to go for in bobsleigh is so exciting
Appiah, a former collegiate shot put and hammer thrower who had tried out bob in 2011 and made the national squad in 2015, took a couple of weeks off after PyeongChang 2018 before visiting a monobob driving school in Lake Placid.
“When I decided to come back to the sport, I knew I was either going to continue as a pilot or pack it all up and go home because I couldn’t carry on as a brakeman,” she said.
“There was no turning back, and I found it a lot of fun. There was a lot of crashing, and Lake Placid is one of the hardest tracks in the world, but it was such a great experience and I’m glad I took it.”
Appiah has since emerged as one of the best monobob athletes in North America and has a real passion for the new event.
“Both two-man and mono have pluses and negatives,” she said. “But a huge plus of mono is that you are your own person. If you mess up, it is completely on you. I like that. One of my biggest assets in the sport is the fact that I can push. I like that monobob gives you the opportunity to see how you stack up athletically and also how you stack up with driving ability. That push is crucial.
“I also like that when you are starting off as a driver in two-man, a lot of people can have a hard time dealing with the fact that you have another person in the back, someone you are responsible for. You think ‘I need to make sure I make it down safely for them’. Monobob removes that. I’m going to get beaten up but at least some poor sap in the back isn’t getting beaten up too.”
Unlike two- and four-man bobsleigh, equipment also plays less of a role in determining results.
“With two- and four-man you could be super talented as a driver or athlete, but if you’re from an emerging nation you’re going to be at a loss because your federation can’t afford to get you a top-of-the-line sled like the Germans, Canadians and Americans,” Appiah said.
“The way monobob is set up, you have standardised sleds. So it comes down to you as an athlete and a driver and it gives you a true test. Winning isn’t down to souped-up equipment. We all have the same runners. We can see who is the top of the top.”
Happy Canada Day from your friendly neighbourhood bobsledder! #CanadaDay #Canada #Toronto #Ontario #YYZ #Bobsleigh #Bobsled #Canadian #TheSix #The6ix #TrueNorth #StrongAndFree pic.twitter.com/5qy3Er2E5w— Cynthia Appiah (@thecynapps) July 1, 2019
Before switching disciplines, Appiah had been part of a two-woman crew with Kaillie Humphries, a legend of Canadian bobbing who won gold at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, and took bronze in PyeongChang. “Much respect to Kaillie. She has changed the way the women’s sport is seen,” Appiah said. “She has put legitimacy into the women’s sport.
“There are a lot of old-school bobsledders who aren’t necessarily fans of the women’s category to start off with. Having her has pushed the limits of what we can do in bobsleigh. I learned a lot as her brakeman that has accelerated my career as a pilot.
“As a driver, I’m learning something new every day. No two runs are similar but it’s an exhilarating experience. I don’t know how I sat in the back for so long, to be honest. Monobob is a new challenge and that’s what makes me come back to the track every single day. I know the next day I will learn something to put in my tool belt.”
There is another thrilling element to the event too.
“It is exciting to be at the start of a new sport because it is hard to say who is the best at it,” Appiah said. “It’s not on the World Cup circuit yet so you have North American and European athletes competing separately. I’ve done some racing in Europe, and that’s great because it’s a new set of athletes. It doesn’t become monotonous or make you complacent.
“With Beijing 2022 coming up, we’ve got a new track, a new sport. Being part of a new event, getting introduced to the Olympic Games, is such an opportunity. And the opportunity for women to have another medal to go for in bobsleigh is so exciting.”
Get things right and Appiah might not just become a future contestant question on Jeopardy. She might one day be the answer to a question.