Slipping and sledding to Olympic gold
By Ian Ross
With two strikes against him, Canadian Olympic bobsledder Sheridon Baptiste plans to make the most of his last pitch at an Olympic medal.
A veteran of two previous games (Lillehammer '94 and Albertville '92), Baptiste has previously come no closer than 11th at Lillehammer.
However, this year the situation is different since Baptiste will be brakeman for driver Chris Lori in Canada's top four-man bobsled team. With a strong collection of experience as a team unit, Canada now has two of the top teams in the four-man event worldwide and Baptiste said they will definitely contend for a place on the podium.
"I'm pretty excited that I have the best opportunity of my career to come back with a medal," he said. "As far as I am concerned, this is the best team unity in years. Everyone is very confident."
An exceptional athlete, Baptiste was a three-sport competitor (basketball, football and track) at Queen's University, while taking a combined honours in history and sociology. Upon graduation, he turned down an offer from the Canadian Football League's Ottawa Roughriders in hopes of pursuing a career on the track.
"Track was going well for me, but if you can't run the 100 metres in 10.1 [seconds], you can't make a living doing it," he said on his eventual abandonment of a sport he still describes as his first love.
With track unable to uphold the lifestyle he desired, Baptiste quickly converted his focus to the bobsled.
"I was lucky. I picked it up relatively quickly," he said. "Being a track athlete, bobsleighing goes hand in hand. It requires speed, power and a little thrill."
Although at first it would seem to be a strange transition, Canada has had a strong tradition of conversion between the two sports when Glenroy Gilbert of the 1994 Olympic gold medal track relay team competed with Baptiste in the four-man bobsled in Lillehammer.
Winning a Calgary-hosted World Cup event in his first season in 1990, Baptiste's career quickly took off solidifying him as one of the top brakemen in the sport. Over the past seven years, this Guyana native has won two silver and four bronze medals at the global level, yet he still acknowledges his appointment to his first Olympic team as the biggest moment in his career.
"It's not something I thought I could attain growing up," he said. "It goes without saying that it is a privilege to represent your country. You have to be the best of the best."
He later added that a medal this week in Nagano would easily surpass the emotions of his first Olympics.
A driven competitor, Baptiste admits that his personal strength is largely drawn from his family life.
"Mom is a huge influence. She is the silent leader in our family," he said. "If I could say I had a true hero she was it."
With his emotions rooted deep in a family focus, Baptiste is not optimistic about returning to the sport after Nagano. Recently married and now paying off a mortgage, he feels that unless the team finds funding or sponsorship, he will need to retire from the sport to support his own family.
For now, Baptiste is basking in the excitement of the Olympics and preparing for his chance to represent Canada.