Powered by the people

2nd April 2018

Twenty four-year old Mica McNeill, from Consett, is a former Junior Bobsleigh World Champion and recently returned from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where she and teammate, Mica Moore, placed eighth – the best position ever achieved by a British women’s Olympic bobsleigh team. But the Micas almost didn’t make the Games when their funding was cut months before the opening ceremony. Ex-Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper caught up with Co Durham’s ‘coolest’ bobsledder to find out more…

Tell us about your experience in Pyeongchang. How was it to be part of Team GB at a Winter Olympics?

Being part of TeamGB was incredible; it’s something that every athlete works towards. You’re part of the biggest team you’ll ever be part of – it’s not just your sport, it’s all the other sports together. It was an honour to be part of it and represent Great Britain at an Olympics. Walking behind the flag at the Opening Ceremony was really special but we didn’t watch the whole event – we had to go on a bus straight back to the Village as the temperature was around minus 16c.

You and Mica nearly didn’t make it to the Games because of the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association’s decision to cut your funding. How did it feel when you heard about the decision?

It was heartbreaking and it was something we didn’t expect to have to deal with either. We had a great season the year before when we’d become Junior World Champions and we had met the British Olympic Association qualifying standard time, too. It came as a big shock to hear there wasn’t going to be funding. To hear it was due to an overspend and mismanagement made it all the more heartbreaking.

How long was it before you decided to start a crowdfunding campaign and were you surprised that you managed to raise more than £40,000?

We probably decided within a couple of hours after our meeting where we found out about the funding cut. We were obviously very upset but quickly said ‘we have to do something about this’. I did not want to be watching the Olympics on the sofa after working so hard. We started to put a plan together but we didn’t know if it was going to work. We knew how difficult it would be to get commercial partners so thought we should tell our story and reach out to the public. The way our crowdfunding campaign took off was incredible and we soon became ‘powered by the people’. That’s what got us through the winter season and to the Olympic Games.

How did the experience impact your training and did being ‘powered by the people’ put extra pressure on you while competing?

Some days during training – when it was freezing and we were tired – it was tough but knowing that we had the public was behind us motivated us and gave us a huge lift. We carried that through to the Games. We were repeatedly asked at the Games if people investing in us brought extra pressure but we said ‘not at all as the messages of support have been incredible’.

Achieving the best ever Olympic position achieved by the British women’s bobsleigh team must have felt extra satisfying knowing you nearly didn’t make the Games…

It’s a bittersweet kind of feeling as we never wanted to be in that position. People from Great Britain and all around the world had donated and got us there and for us to make history when we hadn’t been backed [by the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association] – and to be only 0.15 seconds off a medal position after day one – really relaxed us. We went into day two determined to enjoy it but at the end it did feel bittersweet.

Do you know what your position is in terms of future funding yet or is it too early for that conversation?

Not yet. We’ve been told we need to wait until April/May time to find out. It’s out of our hands but we’ve put down our performance marker and we just have to sit and wait. Hopefully UK Sport can see that despite what we went through, we were still able to produce that performance. Admittedly, GB Bobsleigh did not meet their target so UK Sport do have a right to reduce or withdraw funding. We’ll continue to look for sponsors and funders as we can’t just sit around and wait until mid-summer and be in the same situation as last year. Hopefully though, we will get funding and that will set us up for the next four years.

How did you first get into bobsleigh?

I got involved in bobsleigh totally by chance, I didn’t know what it was. I hadn’t even seen the film Cool Runnings. I was still at school and we got invited down to Bedale in North Yorkshire on a ‘try something new’ day. One of the activities was learning how to push a bobsleigh. The sled was on wheels on a dry track and the session was taught by Nicola Minichiello, who was World Champion at the time. She approached me after the session and told me that I had potential and asked if I’d like to go to Bath to some trials, which I did. Afterwards, I became part of a youth programme that was put together ahead of the first ever Youth Winter Olympics in January 2012. I went along and won a silver medal. From there, I’ve transitioned to the senior squad.

I’ve sat in a bobsleigh – albeit stationary – but you’re reaching speeds in excess of 80mph. Do you ever get scared?

No, because everything we do is to go as fast as we can. Every gym session is to get stronger and every running session is to get faster. Every time we get in the bobsleigh, we’re working out how to get faster because races can come down to hundredths of a second. Our mindset is always to find a way of going faster. We can reach speeds of 146/147kph and as soon as we finish we’re thinking how we can go quicker. I can get nervous heading to a new track for a first run or if I’ve been out of the sled for a while, but nerves are good if you channel them the right way. They keep you alert.

How would you describe your relationship with Mica? Are your personalities similar or different?

We’re both very different personalities but I think we complement each other well. We’re really good friends and get on like a house on fire. This is obviously very important if you’re sharing a van for 15 hours and living, eating and training together for the best part of five months a year. Mica is really good at seeing the positives in things and this is really good for me, especially if I’m getting stressed or worked up. She knows how to ground me and bring me back to where I need to be.

What qualities do you need to be a good bobsleigh driver?

You definitely need to be fearless but also you need to be able to bounce back quickly from mistakes. A strong mindset is important because you’re carrying the responsibility of knowing that if you make a mistake you could hurt the person behind. You also need good reactions and to be very analytical in trying to find any possible way of getting faster while driving the sled.

What’s next for Mica McNeill?

Ultimately, the plan is to come back from Beijing in 2022 with a medal but the next big competition is the World Championships in Whistler, Canada, in February. We have the World Cup Series before that too so hopefully we can have a really good summer training and go into that World Cup series full of confidence. We finished 5th on that track last year so hopefully we’ll be pushing for a medal there.

Mica McNeill
For more information on sponsorship opportunities for Mica and Mica, please contact Robin Palmer on rp@robinpalmerpr.com or 07801 290638

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