Former Dalhousie hockey player is living his Olympic dream with the Canadian bobsleigh team
Mike Evelyn loved Cool Runnings when he was young. He could recite the movie about the Jamaican bobsleigh team line for line.
“I think I had the script memorized; I could probably recite it to you if it was muted right now,” said the 28-year-old, a tough former winger in the Dalhousie Tigers hockey program who is now a member of the Canadian bobsled team at the Olympics. from Beijing.
“Once I got into the sport I realized some things weren’t very precise. But it’s definitely still a favourite.
Evelyn is living her own version of Cool Runnings as one of 21 bobsleigh and skeleton athletes who will wear the maple leaf in Beijing.
Canada brought a full contingent of bobsledders to China after qualifying the maximum number of sleds in all four Olympic bobsled events.
The bobsleigh athletes arrived on January 26, well ahead of their scheduled events. The first leg of the four-man bobsleigh will not take place until next Saturday.
Evelyn said he was “in disbelief” not only that he had traveled to Beijing, but that the Games were taking place during a global pandemic.
“When people come in, they tiptoe in and say, ‘This is happening; I will be able to compete in my event,” Evelyn said in a phone interview from her apartment in one of Beijing’s three Olympic villages.
Living in the Olympic Bubble
Olympians live and compete inside a bubble and must take COVID tests daily. If they test positive, they are either transferred to an isolation center or to a hospital, depending on the severity of their symptoms, until they are discharged after testing negative.
Evelyn said athletes are allowed to roam freely but masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors.
They want you in your room unless you’re going to eat or do a lift or do your event. And you are definitely not allowed to post photos where you are not wearing a mask in any of the places.
“There is nowhere to sit and hang around and bask. There is no seating area anywhere,” he said. “They want you in your room unless you’re going to eat or do a lift or do your event. And you are definitely not allowed to post photos where you are not wearing a mask in any of the places.
“We test every day with a higher sensitivity than what we test in Canada,” Evelyn continued. “That means fewer people are testing positive. There are still cases of people arriving with negative tests but, on the Chinese tests, they are positive. And if you test positive, that’s 10 days of isolation or until you receive repeated negative tests. They can’t do anything but sit in their room. Even close contacts should self-isolate.
Arriving more than three weeks before the first rounds of the four-man event on February 19 allowed Evelyn to acclimate to the track and its surroundings, although trying to make up for her downtime was a challenge.
“It’s definitely good for the body,” Evelyn said. “Bobsleigh is not easy on the body. All season we race on Saturdays and Sundays, travel on Mondays, slide on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then travel to the next venue on Friday and repeat the cycle. It’s a little go, go, go.
“Now that we have time for ourselves, it’s nice for the body. But we are almost confused as to what to do with ourselves. It’s mostly eating, sleeping and training. We try to soak up all the amenities available to us. The whole team got their hair cut here. There is a barber in the village (Olympic) and we all thought that was the coolest thing.
Living the Olympic dream
Still, the native of Nepean, Ont., is living the Olympic dream. But not in the sport he envisioned.
He played five seasons at Dal (2014-19) and graduated with an engineering degree. He had offers to play in the minor pros in the United States. But the year before she graduated, Evelyn attended an RBC Training Ground event in Halifax that ultimately led her down this different path.
RBC Training Ground is an event that helps identify athletes with Olympic potential. His athletic prowess caught the eye of the Canadian national bobsleigh team.
“I dreamed of going to the Olympics as a kid, but it definitely wasn’t for bobsleigh,” recalls Evelyn, who played 127 career games for Dal, recording 22 goals, 14 assists and 182 minutes. penalty.
“The NHL dream died first. And then the dream of professional hockey died a little later. But the Olympic dream was reborn and it all started at the RBC Training Ground.
“It was all about the numbers,” he said of the training event. “They looked at the data and liked what they saw.
“I had a fast time in the 30 meter sprint. It was something that Bobsleigh Canada considered essential. If you miss the time limit, you are not eligible to be part of the team. And they are looking for taller people. We are a weighted sport so if you are light you need to push a bigger sled. Being tall with a taller frame helps. But they liked my explosiveness and my jump.
Being a former hockey player and his skating skills were a plus. Many bobsledders come from football or athletics.
“I had no bad habits,” he said. “Most athletes come from track and field. They said I had to learn to run, but a lot of track athletes had to unlearn how to run. It’s a little different when pushing a sled.
Reach high speeds
Evelyn got his first chance to ride and fly these ice rockets during a week-long session in Calgary in 2018. How did he feel when he first hit these ice floes? at speeds of up to 150 km/h?
I still won’t go on the roller coaster, though.
“I hate roller coasters, so it was basically a nightmare,” he said with a laugh. “I had a lot of restless nights before and a lot of anxiety. But they told me I’d be good at it so I swallowed it all.
“I do a lot of mental training in the offseason. The novelty has faded. I get nervous before my first race, but once we get to the bottom the nerves dissipate. At this level, you worry more about rushing and G-force. You are not nervous about tipping over.
“I still won’t go on the roller coaster, though.”
Evelyn officially joined Team Canada in October 2019 and a month later competed in his first race in Lake Placid, NY
His crew includes veteran pilot Christopher Spring, who will be competing in his third Winter Olympics, four-time World Cup medalist Cody Sorensen, and former NFL and CFL receiver Sam Giguere. who played for Indianapolis, New York Giants, Hamilton, Montreal and Edmonton before retiring after the 2018 season.
All three are in their mid-thirties.
“The rest of the crew is older than me and they bring a sense of professionalism and intensity,” Evelyn said. “All these guys have an attitude, a seriousness that rubs off on you. They show you what it takes from a mental point of view and not just a physical performance. As a young man, it certainly imprints on you the values you need to embrace in order to be successful.
This season, COVID-19 has forced all international bobsleigh races into Europe.
The Spring snowmobile finished eighth, its best of the season, at an IBSF BMW World Cup event in Winterberg, Germany in early January.
“During the year we’ve definitely gelled,” said Evelyn, who is based in Ottawa where he works for Lougheed Martin Canada. “The last two races of the year we had better performances.
“It’s more about hitting milestones than a certain amount of time. We have had ups and downs and gone through lulls. You get all of that in bobsledding. I’m here to do my best and make everyone proud. I have set expectations internally. Everything is gravy.
Evelyn hasn’t returned to Halifax since graduating, but remains in contact with former teammate Kyle Yewchuk, who is in his third year at Dal.
But he expects to be on the east coast with the bobsled team, maybe as early as this spring.
For something really cool, here’s Canada’s bobsleigh with the color scheme of one of our RCN ships (HMCS Moncton) commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic pic.twitter.com/rc5Sowps5M
— Tom Fredericks (@hfx_houseofyork) February 8, 2022
Sliding athletes will compete on sleds at the Beijing Games that honor historic Canadian naval warships. This is part of a partnership between the Royal Canadian Navy and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.
“I expect there will be a Bobsleigh Canada/Canadian Navy celebration in Halifax after the Olympics,” Evelyn said. “I miss Halifax so I can’t wait to be there, walk around my old turf and see the players and coaching staff. It will be nice to go back down memory lane.