McNeill hopes working from home can lead to bobsleigh glory

Mica McNeill's backyard bobsleigh track has taught her the true meaning of the phrase 'working from home' but now she’s back in her icy office once more as she targets success at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

The 28-year-old bobsledder from County Durham couldn't push or go to the gym once lockdown restrictions started back in March 2020, but her family were quick to respond.

Her dad and brother – along with sponsors DHL – were the driving forces behind building the push-start track which, combined with a home gym, local running track and plenty of guest rooms, has formed the perfect home-spun training camp.

It worked a treat, as McNeill (alongside brakewoman Montell Douglas) recorded her best-ever finish of fourth in her first post-lockdown two-woman bobsleigh World Cup race in December 2020 and went on to come ninth in the season-long World Cup rankings.

McNeill feels sharp heading into the first World Cup event of the 2021-22 bobsleigh season in Igls this weekend and has even got used to training in front of an audience in her garden – albeit a slightly furrier one than the fans who will line the tracks at the top level.

"This summer, it's been brilliant as it's been a base for us to have training camps," said McNeill, who will look to rubber-stamp qualification for Beijing 2022 during this season’s World Cup events.

"It's been brilliant; I don't think anyone has got an actual bobsleigh track in their back garden. It’s to practice the push starts.

"We can get 30 metres of pushing out of it before we have to jump in. It’s a straight, flat bit of track that you can practice the push technique on. So when we come out and get onto ice, we’ve been able to push a sled and practice technique all summer.

"I'm fortunate I've got a big back garden which is mostly for my little dog [a cockapoo] – it's her pride and joy, so it's more like my dog's garden, but we've taken over.

"At first, she tried to get involved and run alongside us, but she quickly learnt that if she tried to run too close to the sled, then she was put in the house.

"She's a very fast learner, so she now lies down and minds her own business and just watches."

McNeill was a star performer at the last Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, as she recorded Team GB's best-ever finish in the two-woman bobsleigh by coming eighth alongside Mica Moore.

Beijing 2022 and a push for a medal at her second Games is the aim this season for the sledder who already has experience of an Olympic podium, after winning a silver medal at the first-ever Youth Olympic Games in 2012, while she also became junior world champion in 2017.

Having made history in PyeongChang, McNeill is targeting more in China and recently had her first experience of the bobsleigh track in Beijing when competing in a test event.

McNeill added: "It [the track] is very unique. The first thing that was noticeable is the corners are so big, some of the biggest corners that I've ever seen in the world, it's a really unique track.

"Now we're learning it and getting to grips with it, you can't compare it to anywhere else in the world. It's a new style of bobsleigh course, which makes it interesting.

"It's got the spiral, which is what in Germany we would call the Kreisel; it's the biggest loop in bobsleigh.

"People want to see top speeds and how fast you can make it. It is a fun track to drive through.

"I’ll be putting everything in it so that I can challenge for the medals and improve on the last Games and come back with another historic moment for Britain.

"I definitely want to chip away on that eighth place from 2018 and push for the medals, that’s the aim.”

While qualification for a second Winter Olympics is the first job, McNeill will also need to decide who will act as her brakewoman if she makes it to Beijing.

The World Cup events will see her rotate between three candidates – PyeongChang 2018 partner Moore, recent World Cup colleague Douglas and Welsh shot put champion Adele Nicoll, who was head-hunted by the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association (BBSA) due to her natural athleticism.

Not having the team set in stone heading into an Olympic year could be seen as a concern but McNeill is adamant the wide-open competition excites rather than worries her.

"As it stands, out of these three girls, I've got no idea who will be on the start line with me in February," she said. "And I'm not just saying that. I have no idea.

"But that is very exciting; it's the first time in my career where I've gone ‘wow, I've got three great girls battling it out.’

"No matter what happens, it's going to be a good team going into the Games. So it's exciting to see how that all unfolds.

“If I was sat here saying I know who is going to race with me in February, then that person doesn’t have anyone to drive them.

“These girls are pushing every single day to be the best they can be. It’s that healthy competition internally that’s going to help us along the way.”