barnsley bobsleigh  rider Fiona Harrison
barnsley bobsleigh rider Fiona Harrison

Fiona Harrison vividly remembers her first experience in a bobsleigh ... she was sick.

Maybe hardly suprising when you’re trying to stay focused in a 140kg gravity-powered metal sled for two down narrow, twisting, banked, iced tracks at speeds of around 90mph.

Bobsligh Fiona Harrison

Bobsligh Fiona Harrison

Fiona first began training two years ago and ended her first season at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver where she was part of the GB No1 women’s team - as a brakewomen - alongside Sheffield’s own World Champion Nicola Minichiello.

She then decided it was time to switch to the front seat of the bobsleigh and her first season as a driver has certainly proved to be a steep learning curve for the 28-year-old who was born in Hoyland but is now based in Middlewood.

Fiona spent three weeks at a ‘bobschool’ in Lake Placid, New York, learning the basics of driving on ice at one of the most challenging tracks in the world.

At the moment, with Nicola currently recovering from knee surgery, Paula Walker is the GB No1, while Fiona is one of three GB novice drivers - her former brakewoman rival Gillian Cooke is among them - battling it out for top spot and a place in the World Cup competition in St Moritz at the end of the month.

This week she faced her ‘biggest challenge’ when she took part in her first World Cup races in Igls, Austria. Next week she’s in St Moritz, for the final two Europa Races while the World Championships take place in Konigssee, Germany next month.

So how did a former heptathlete and pole vaulter from Barnsley end up taking part in bobsleigh?

Fiona said: “I’d got a bit stale with athletics and needed a fresh challenge. Bobsleigh has set my brain alight again and it’s going well. I’ve certainly no regrets.

“It’s an exciting but very tough sport to be involved in and provides a real mental challenge. Hopefully, it will all be worth it. To develop into a successful driver will take a great deal of focus and commitment but at the moment it’s all about getting used to the tracks and completing the run without crashing!

“Bobsleigh is not for everyone. I remember my first couple of rides. I suffered motion sickness and ended up making green snow! Nothing can prepare you for that incredible ‘journey’ ... it’s like a white hole, you can’t see where you’re going and you know that if you even blink for a split second, you’ll crash.

“It’s very intense. You don’t really have time to think; it’s much more about a sense of feeling.

“When you’re a driver you’re much more in control. I wanted that responsibilty of producing the goods and ultimately being in charge of my own destiny,” she added.

A good start is vital in a sport in which one hundredths of a second can prove the difference between winning and losing which is why speed, power and strength are the essentials for any would-be bobsleigher. Needless to say, Fiona’s former ‘life’ as an athlete stands her in good stead.

Most of her off-season indoor training is done at the English Institute of Sport, although during competitions there’s a great deal of improvisation, with indoor car parks becoming make-shift gyms and hotel corridors providing space for buttock workouts!

Her sled is provided by the British Bobsleigh Association via the army but she’s hopeful that with extra cash this year, courtesy of UK Sport, better equipment will be forthcoming very shortly which is just what she’d hoped for in the build up to her ultimate dream event ... the Winter Olympics of 2014 which will be held in Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea.

Fiona has just secured sponsorship with Sheffield Forgemasters while her other main backers are Dransfield Properties and Sheffield Design Services. Contact her at fiona.harrison@bobteamgb.org