Alan's aiming for GB glory after switching to bobsleigh
By Stuart Laundy - Senior Reporter
A DALE athlete is hoping to secure a place in the GB sled for this winter’s bobsleigh world championships just three months after taking up the high velocity sport.
Alan Toward, from Middleton-in-Teesdale, spent a decade establishing himself as one of England's best discus throwers.
He decided to switch disciplines after being contacted by GB bobsleigh pilot Brad Hall, who was looking for athletes to try out for the squad.
After a successful series of trials, which began in July, 26-year-old Alan was selected as part of the 17-strong British team for the 2018/19 bobsleigh season.
Alan is now with the team in Whistler, Canada, training and competing in the North American Cup.
His first race was in the two-man event last Thursday when he was Brad Hall’s brakeman and the pair finished sixth, just 1.2 seconds behind the first placed pair from the host nation.
In Friday’s four-man race, he was part of the team that finished fourth, just 0.56 seconds off the winning pace of the Canadian sled.
Alan said he had enjoyed the bobsleigh experience so far, but was still learning.
“I’ve watched the bobsleigh on television for a few years now and always wanted to give it a try, so I thought this was a really good opportunity,” he explained.
“I was contacted by Brad Hall so I went down to Bath in July, where the push track is based.
“I enjoyed the first few sessions, so kept going down for training every couple of weeks.
“I went through four rounds of testing and was fortunate enough to be picked for the team in October.”
Alan said he was able to bring some of his skills from the discus to the bobsleigh track.
“Discus is a speed/power event, which means we have to produce large amounts of force in a very short period of time,” he said.
“Bobsleigh is similar. The athletes have to get the sled up to speed as fast as possible, so a lot of the training correlates.
“Obviously there’s an optimal technique to pushing which I’m still learning, but hopefully I’ll make a breakthrough soon.”
The GB bobsleigh team now moves on to Park City, Utah, in the USA, after which the circuit heads to Lake Placid for the final round of North American Cup races.
Then the team comes back to Europe for the world cup series of races, leading up to the world championships back in Whistler, Canada, at the end of February.
“The goal is to be part of the world cup team and hopefully get a medal, then start to look towards the next Olympics if I’m good enough,” said Alan.
“Bobsleigh is really good so far. You get such a buzz from the slides and speeds of 90mph-plus on the four man sled and 70mph-plus in the two-man.
“The team is full of Olympians, so they’re really good athletes to work alongside. I’m learning a lot from all of them,” he added.
“The coaching staff are also really helpful and definitely look out for us. Whistler is the fastest track in the world, so this is a good one to start on.”
Alan grew up playing cricket, football and rugby, moving into athletics as a teenager.
After attending Teesdale School, he went on to study a BSc in sports science and then a masters in exercise science at Northumbria University, Newcastle, all the while improving as a discus thrower.
Having competed for GB and England, he holds the North-East record of 59m and has a personal best of 59.33m. In 2017, he was ranked fourth in the UK and is currently a member of Sheffield AC.
“I haven’t retired from throwing but I felt this was a good opportunity to try something new and I’ve been lucky enough for the BBSA (British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association) to give me an opportunity,” he said.
The British bobsleigh team is funded by UK Sport, however, Alan would welcome any additional sponsorship to help cover costs. Email him at Toward17@hotmail.co.uk.