Courtney Rumbolt and Dean Ward: The British bobsleighers who blazed a trail
As Black History Month continues, Courtney Rumbolt and Dean Ward reflect on their historic medal win at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games
Last Updated: 16/10/20 11:05am
Courtney Rumbolt and Dean Ward share rather an unusual claim to fame – they are jointly regarded as Britain's first black Winter Olympic medallists.
Rumbolt and Ward formed half of the four-man Great Britain bobsleigh team that travelled to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, alongside Paul Attwood and driver Sean Olsson. The quartet defied the odds to scoop bronze, clinching Britain's only medal from the Games in Nagano.
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After a blistering first run, they found themselves in the closest of medal scraps with Switzerland, France and USA, heading into a final run which Rumbolt still finds surreal to this day.
"I remember getting on to that block, getting behind that sleigh, pushing that sleigh off and feeling it go fast and really picking up momentum," he told Sky Sports News.
"Then diving and jumping in, and having had such a good run in that first run, getting to the bottom [I remember] really feeling quite elated by it. And the second run was actually rained off that day, which is quite unique, so instead of being four runs it was three overall.
"Going into that fourth run - and we talk about pressure - we were tied with two other sleighs for third place. So, we got to the bottom and we were tied for top spot with France and there were two more sleighs to come.
"The Americans had a good start and they were up all the way down to the last timing clock. And as they crossed the line they were two hundredths of a second back - after three miles of racing, two hundredths of a second [difference] is just incredible!
"We were all huddled together and I remember seeing the clock and I jumped and screamed. And I was worried in case I was wrong and that we hadn't got this medal, and there was just this momentary pause, and then everybody else joined in.
"The whole place just erupted, us and our team, and the French, we were all hugging and cuddling each other, it was just absolute elation."
'Everyone wants an Olympic medal'
Rumbolt - a former European Junior sprint relay medallist - was the only member of the bobsleigh team who was not enrolled in the armed forces at the time of the Nagano Winter Olympics.
Ward was a member of the Parachute Regiment and had only decided to give bobsleigh a go after being spotted warming up for the Army Athletics Championships.
He recalls being told it was like "pushing a sleigh and going down an ice track" - he could never have imagined it would one day result in bringing home Britain's first bobsleigh medal in 34 years.
"Everybody that goes to the Olympics always wants to come away with a medal," Ward said.
"So many people have tried and so many people have failed for one reason or another. But when you actually do get on the podium, well, it's hard to describe - it is absolutely fantastic, it really is.
"We were the only ones to medal in that Olympic Games for Great Britain and we got upgraded into first class - everybody else was obviously in cattle class down the back!
"It was quite mad at the airport [when we returned from Japan]. Our families were in there as well and they are trying to get to you, and you have all the press and the people, it was mad. I mean I have never experienced anything like that before."
The pair admit they do not miss the physical demands of bobsleigh training but Rumbolt says there is nothing quite like skating on thin ice and living life in the fast lane.
He said: "When you're travelling down the ice, and you're two inches off the ground, and you're wearing a lycra suit with very little protection - and if you're at a fast track like St Moritz and you're going 90mph with no engine - that's incredible.
"The feeling of speed as the wind is rushing past your ears is amazing and you miss that, you do miss that."
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