Bobsleigh: Leeds ace Stead sets sights on Winter Olympics

Leeds-based bobsleigh ace Rich Stead has his sights set on Great Britain selection for the next Winter Olympics in Russia.
Leeds-based bobsleigh ace Rich Stead has his sights set on Great Britain selection for the next Winter Olympics in Russia.
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Most boys growing up in Leeds dream of sporting success running out at Elland Road or Headingley Carnegie.

But one born-and-bred Leeds man has turned to a slightly riskier, and colder, sport to make his name.

Rich Stead grew up in Alwoodley as a football fanatic playing for his local side Wigton Moor Juniors in the Garforth and District Junior League.

Yet now he is on the verge of representing Great Britain’s bobsleigh team in next year’s Winter Olympics only a year after taking up the sport.

Stead, 24, discovered a love of the adrenaline-filled winter sport while pursuing his ambition to be a sports scientist.

He signed up for initial bobskeleton screening tests in a “power2podium” talent drive run by UK Sport, where much to his own surprise he got through round after round until eventually reaching the final ten.

His new-found hobby then hit a setback, when he returned from a trip to Norway with post-concussion syndrome and a fractured hand.

But Stead bounced back and recovered to take part in bobsleigh trials which resulted in him being selected as a brake-man in the Great Britain squad in September last year.

Races in the Europa and Americas Cup circuits followed as well as the Junior World Championships in Austria.

Stead, along with junior driver Olly Biddulph, managed the quickest start time in Calgary and claimed his first medal in the sport.

And now Stead is hoping to up the pace further ahead of a bid to make next year’s Winter Olympic in Russia, with the Leeds ace pushing his limits to make sure he’s in with a chance.

“I’d love to get there, and that’s why I’m putting so much in at the moment,” said Stead.

“We have so much strength and depth in the squad right now, the winter games are going to make great viewing and it would be great to see the public get behind us.

“I’ve just completed my first season in the sport.

“But the margins are so tight for selections it’s an opportunity I simply can’t pass up.

The dream of going to the Olympics and representing my country is something so few have the chance to pursue.”

The change in career choice was naturally one which took Stead’s family by surprise.

But those nearest and dearest to the Leeds ace were soon on side.

After all, who wouldn’t like the idea of having an Olympic athlete in the family.

“Initially it was met with some resistance,” said Stead.

“It’s not how the majority of people live their lives, and there is some risk associated with it.

“Now they see how much I enjoy it and how much I get out of it.”

Success, though, does not come easy in the sport, even without considering the scary speeds and sub zero temperatures competitors have to contend with.

There is presently no ice track in the UK, although there is a dry push start track in Bath.

Even so, most training is done in the gym similar to a sprinter or an Olympic lifter.

Training six days a week also takes its toll and makes it difficult to find work.

But for Stead one goal will hopefully make all the hard work worthwhile – reaching Sochi 2014 representing GB and Leeds.

Stead admitted: “On a personal level it is quite difficult.

“It’s hard to attract work when potential employers know you’re training all the time and go away all winter.

“But I’d just love to get to the Winter Olympics.”

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