The Olympics can be a cruel endeavour.
Moose Jaw native Ben Coakwell is headed to Sochi, Russia to compete at the Olmypic Games as part of the four-man bobsleigh Christopher Spring team. Submitted photo
Ben Coakwell learned that less than two minutes into his first Olympic Winter Games competition.
The 26-year-old Moose Jaw bobsledder saw his Olympic debut come to an unfortunate end as he and his Canada-3 teammates crashed during their second run during the four-man bobsleigh competition in Sochi, Russia.
The crash took the Canadians out of the running and Coakwell didn't take part in the team's final run Sunday.
Training for four years for less than four minutes spent in the bobsleigh at an Olympics is a massive commitment, but Monday, Coakwell said he was hungry to take another shot at the medal podium at the 2018 Games in Pyeonghcnag, South Korea.
"It's a tough thing to get your head around because it only comes every four years. That's a long ways away and a lot can change in that time period," said Coakwell from Russia. "I definitely have a bitter taste in my mouth from what happened. I feel like we were performing well and things were going our way up until then.
"We'll do our best to make sure we're ready again and when we put ourselves in that position again we capitalize that time."
Coakwell sits in the rear of the sled behind fellow brakemen Cody Sorensen and Jesse Lumsden and pilot Justin Kripps. He got the worst of the crash as his head, shoulders and upper back scraped along the ice as the sled careened down the Sanki Sliding Centre track.
"I'm feeling all right I guess. I'm a little banged up, but other than that I'm all right. There's no major damage. Nothing a few days rest won't take care of it," said Coakwell who played CIS football at the University of Saskatchewan. "I took a couple of good whacks on the shoulder, but that's a daily occurrence in football too."
His main malady is a burn that he suffered from the ice.
"It's like a thermal burn rather than a friction. It's kind of weird, but yeah that's the main thing," said Coakwell.
It was his first crash as a bobsledder, but he dismissed the violent crash as merely being a part of the sport that everyone deals with at some point in their career.
Kripps started to lose control coming out of turn 11 and the nose of the sled started angling away from the corner of turn 14. The sled ended up rolling straight into the corner while on two runners and flipped on its side.
"It happened real quick. There was a split second of silence and then it got loud after that," said Coakwell. "A crash is a crash, you know? It happens in the sport."
Kripps and Lumsden took their final run Wednesday with alternates Luke Demetre and Graeme Rinholm taking the place of Coakwell and Sorensen.
"I think it was important for Justin to get back in the sled — he didn't want to end on a crash and he wanted to make the most of his Olympic experience," said Coakwell. "Our spares travel with us all year. They work hard, but they don't get to race all year and Graeme and Luke got a chance to go in and become Olympians. We were more than happy to let them do that.
"It's not to say that they didn't earn it though because they did."
Coakwell said he probably could have raced if there was something on the line.
Coakwell, Lumsden and Sorensen weren't even supposed to be in Kripps sled, but 48 hours before the competition Canadian head coach Tom De La Hunty and the staff of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton opted to switch pilots. Coakwell, Lumsden and Sorensen left pilot Chris Spring — whom they had competed with during the entire World Cup season — and joined Kripps.
"We have a job to do. We train all summer to do our specific job and we go out and execute and do what we're supposed to do," said Coakwell. "The coaches make the decisions that they make and that's the way the organization is. We can't concern ourselves with trying to do other people's jobs. We have to do our jobs. At the end of the day, we want to win an Olympic medal. Instead of going into a race upset about it, we have to go out and perform."
Coakwell and company showed why they are regarded as having the strongest push out of the three Canadian sleds. Before the crash that had gotten off to two fast starts and were putting together a strong second run. They completed the first run in 55.17 seconds, while top three sled all broke the 55 second barrier.
"If you put our two starts together, we tied the Latvians with the fastest average. We're pretty happy about that," said Coakwell in reference to the team who finished second. "I would say we pushed faster with our second push and most people slowed down. We had a little bit of a timing issue on the first push and we feel like if we could have hit that, we could have had that 55."
Knowing how well they pushed and how fast their starts were added to the team's self-belief. Coakwell feels it will motivate him and his teammates moving forward.
"It's fuel to the fire to get back there and next time we're there to make sure we have the fastest push. That's something we take seriously," he said.
Coakwell will land in Calgary Tuesday afternoon. He is hoping to take a few family members on ride on a bobsled to let them experience it and he's going to take some down time away from the sport and then start training for next year's World Cup season.
It has been a whirlwind 18 months as Coakwell went from a neophyte in the sport to one of the best brakemen in the country. He savoured his Olympic experience.
"It's the Olympic Games. You have these thoughts in your mind of how it might be and they exceeded my expectations. Sochi did a really good job to be honest. Everything from the security to the organization was really well done," he said.
"From the sport part of it, you get to compete in front of the world. That's the marquee thing that every athlete strives to do and it was an awesome experience."