By James Pearson
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – When British women’s bobsledders ‘Team Mica’ were told their funding had suddenly been cut last September they thought they were not going to make it to the Winter Olympics.
But on Wednesday they scored the best bobsleigh result in British Olympic history by coming eighth in the women’s final.
“We’re absolutely buzzing,” pilot Mica McNeill said. “A little bit confused – but absolutely buzzing.”
“Our brains have been rattled,” added brakewoman Mica Moore. “We’re just so happy. We can’t believe we’re even here to start with”.
For Team Mica, the road to Pyeongchang was full of more tricky twists than the ice track at the Olympic Sliding Centre.
With no funding, they were in the British team with access to its doctors and coaches but had no choice but to embark on the difficult job of self-funding their way to the Olympics.
“It’s miserable. It’s absolutely miserable,” said British bobsledder and twice Olympian John Jackson, who also had to fund his way to Olympic success before he joined the British team and competed in his first Winter Games in 2010.
“It’s so stressful because you can’t really focus on being a true athlete because any time you get is not about recovering, it’s about trying to find the funding to pay next week’s hotel bill,” said Jackson.
So, a few months before the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, the undeterred Micas set up an online crowd funding campaign in a last-minute bid to get them – and their sled – to South Korea.
“Due to the mismanagement of British Bobsleigh there is no longer any funding available for a women’s program to compete in the Olympics,” 24-year-old McNeill wrote on the GoFundMe.com website.
“I now must self-fund my winter season and I am asking for funding or sponsorship so that I am able to compete on the World Cup circuit this winter to secure my place in the next Olympics.”
Incredibly, it worked.
Within weeks, the pair had met their 30,000 pounds ($42,000) target and were on their way to the Olympics.
By the time they finished their fourth and final run in Pyeongchang on Wednesday, they had raised 47,500 pounds ($66,000) and set a new benchmark in British Olympic history.
“It’s made it possible for us to be here today and we’re so grateful to them,” Mica Moore told Reuters.
“It’s meant that we can book great accommodation, freight the sled the places where it needs to go, and make sure our nutrition is on point so that we’re the best athletes we can be at the Olympics.
“It’s been an incredible journey.”
But what made the funding cut all the more extraordinary was that the pair had performed at a similar level to the British men’s team, said Ken Childs, a sliding expert and owner of SlidingOnIce.com.
“Now that they’re here, they’re doing remarkable,” Childs said.
After Wednesday’s final, McNeill said they would spend the next four years getting ready for the next Games – hopefully without the need for a crowd funding campaign.
“We’re so, so grateful to have been powered by the people — and the people got us here, and that’s absolutely incredible — but we don’t want to rely on them,” said McNeill
We want four stress-free seasons and be ready for Beijing 2022 and absolutely smash it”.
Until they get back on the ice, there was just one more thing to do — “Party!” said Moore.
(Reporting by James Pearson, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)