AFTER a 20-year hiatus, Trinidad and Tobago has qualified to compete in the men’s bobsled at next month’s Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Brian Lewis, president of the TT Olympic Committee (TTOC), confirmed the nation’s participation via a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

TT will be represented by a six-member team with four athletes and two officials. They are pilot Axel Brown, brakeman Andre Marcano, alternate Mikel Thomas, reserve Shakeel John and officials Thomas Harris and Lewis Prentice.

The team will be joined by chef de mission Lovie Santana and covid19 liaison officer Rheeza Grant. The 2022 Winter Games run from February 4-20.

Lewis said, “The bobsled team has met all the qualification criteria for the Beijing Olympic Games. Our efforts required intense and dedicated commitment.

“The TTOC was very pleased, when communicated by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, to have signed off (confirmation participation) and in fact, we did not delay. Acknowledgement (of TT’s acceptance) by the international federation came very quickly.”

The team is in Calgary, Canada fine-tuning their skills for their Olympic debut. Thomas’s selection to the bobsleigh team saw him become the first TT athlete to represent the country at both the Summer and Winter Games. He is a three-time 400-metre hurdles Olympian.

The squad awaits final travel logistics from Santana before they begin their trek to China.

Brown is a former pilot for the Great Britain national bobsled team, but, like his newfound teammates, he has never competed on the Olympic stage. He is, however, the most experienced athlete on the team.

The bobsled driver was born and raised in North Yorkshire, England. His mother is a Trinidadian. Since the team was officially formed in August 2020, he has played a crucial leadership role in getting the team ready.

On securing his and TT’s Olympic berth, Brown was elated.

“The smile hasn’t left my face since it’s all become somewhat sure. It’s been a long time in the making. I’m so proud to accomplish this and also to be able to do it for TT.

“It’s only been a short amount of time, but these past months have meant more to me athletically and personally. I’ve accomplished more in these six months than I have in my entire career prior.

“I’m so proud to wear these colours and rep TT with pride and respect and perform as well as we can. We’re capable of good things when we put it together. We’re going to show that, yes it’s a novelty, but we’re trying to do our best and hopefully shock the world in a good way,” he said.

Over the next few weeks, the team continues to train at an indoor ice-house on a “push-track” in Calgary. There, Thomas, Marcano and John will sharpen up on their pushing technique.

Brown said the team turned down an opportunity to compete in Europe to increase their nation ranking (17th) ahead of the games. He felt it was more feasible for the squad to fine-tune ahead of the meet, a decision he does not regret, since several national teams which went to Europe ended up contracting covid19.

At the Winter Games, each competing men’s bobsled team will have three runs down the track. The top 20 sleds get a fourth run on the second day. Qualifying for the second round of competition, Brown said, is the main goal.

He plans to use this year’s edition as a platform to launch into the 2026 games in Milan, Italy.

“We know where we stand internationally, 17th out of 19 nations that will be competing, so we’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves to what we can accomplish.

“We’re still in the early stages of this team and as we look to Milan in four years, we certainly aim to be much higher in that list. So we’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves and come in and say we’re going to win gold when realistically the chances of that are very, very slim.

“Our gold medal would make making that top 20 and getting a fourth run on the second day of racing. There will be 30 sleds in the race and if we can make that top 20, I think that would be a great success for us,” he added.

Browne said the team was unable to take part in a recent Olympic Test event at the Beijing venue becauset the deadline for submission was in May last year. The national team was officially formed/re-established three months later.

The veteran driver said he has seen and heard reports about the newly built track that were “incredibly interesting” and featured a “full loop, four different steering points, a lot of interesting corners…and many elements that people haven’t see before.”

The team’s qualification to the Games followed their participation in the North American Cup last year. They, alongside John’s brother Shomari, competed in eight races, in which their top seven results counted towards Olympic qualification. To be selected for Beijing, they had to either rank with the top 19 nations and/or the top 30 sleds in the world. They opted for the former route as the easier way to qualify.

Brown said, “By Christmas, we knew we were (ranked) in the top 14 nations and that gave us the room to work with coming up to now. We sit in 17th now of the 19 nations and 38th in the world.

“We could have optimised the points to rank higher, but it worked better for us to stop at Christmas and focus on Beijing. It’s the points system that works across all three levels of sport.”

The last time TT competed in men’s bobsleigh at this level was back in 2002 in Salt Lake City, US. TT, however, made its Winter Games bobsleigh debut in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway and its second appearance in Nagano, Japan, four years later.

In January 2020, TT’s Abigail Vieira made history by becoming the first athlete to compete at the Winter Youth Olympic Games. She competed in Alpine skiing.

Lewis has high hopes for the bobsled team and believes it serves as a catalyst for foreign-based nationals who are excelling in non-traditional Caribbean sports.

“I really think this group of athletes will attract more interest. It provides options for young people to achieve their Olympic dreams.”