After winning four consecutive CrossFit Games, a Commonwealth Games gold medal at the Gold Coast 2018 Games and representing Australia at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Tia-Clair Toomey is turning her attention to her next challenge – competing at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in bobsled.
On 11 December 2020, the “fittest woman on Earth” who won a gold medal in the women’s weightlifting 58kg category on the Gold Coast, announced over Instagram that she and her husband and trainer Shane Orr are moving from their current residence in Cookeville, Tennessee in the American heartland to Seoul, South Korea to focus on her bobsled training.
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A sport which involves bobsled crews of two and four making timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked, iced tracks in a gravity-powered sleigh, the sport puts emphasis on a tremendous burst of power and sprinting to propel the sleigh, which weighs 128kg, from the starting block straight to the downhill track where the sleigh can reach speeds in excess of 150kph.
On an episode of the Big Idea, Big Moves podcast, Toomey revealed her intention to qualify for the Australian Women’s Bobsled team.
“I’ll be going and training with the Australian Bobsled Team,” Toomey said on the podcast.
“This is something that has been in the works for over 18 months now. Obviously, we have the Winter Olympics in 2022, so the goal is to try and qualify for the Winter Olympics. I’ll be training in South Korea and doing bobsled.”
Toomey wouldn’t be the first Australian Commonwealth Games athlete to embark on a new challenge on the ice-coated tracks complete with a straight and a labyrinth of tight turns, following his career on the athletics track two-time Commonwealth Games team member Paul Narracott was the first athlete making the change.
The Athletics Australia track sprinter, Narracott finished fourth in the 200m final at the Edmonton 1978 Commonwealth Games, then returned at the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games narrowly missing the medals in the 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100m relay team finishing fourth in all three events. Following representing Australia at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics, Narracott set his sights on bobsledding, joining Glen Turner to compete at the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics, becoming the first Australian to compete at both a Summer and Winter Olympics.
Paul Narracott competing at the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games. (CGA Archive)
The second Australian athlete to achieve the feat and the first female athlete was four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jana Pittman.
After winning two gold medals at both the Manchester 2002 and Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, and after injury disrupted her tilts at Olympic gold at the Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Summer Olympics, the Athletics Australia star turned her attention to bobsledding.
The former hurdler now brakewoman joined pilot Astrid Radjenovic to compete at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, where the Australian pair finished 14th.
Jana Pittman after winning gold at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. (CGA Archive)
Toomey’s fellow Gold Coast 2018 teammate Evan O’Hanlon is another Commonwealth Games athlete looking to make the switch to the popular traditionally European sport.
After winning five gold medals at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Summer Paralympics which were the icing on his Para-athletics career, O’Hanlon was looking to put the cherry on top of his illustrious career with a gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, but the sprinter finished with silver in the 100m T38.
Unfulfilled with the result, O’Hanlon began training for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, where he would go on to win gold in the same event, but the competitive flame was re-lit.
It was a conversation with his gym instructor who represented Hungary at two Winter Olympics in bobsledding which launched O’Hanlon’s new challenge.
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“The winter Games were on TV at the time and I said to him, ‘Do you reckon, with my speed and body shape, if I trained fulltime for it, could I make the bobsled team?’,” O’Hanlon wrote in an Athlete’s Voice article.
“He knows me pretty well, and told me he thought I could.
“It probably would have been easier for my life if he just said ‘no’. But when he said that it was like ‘oh s***, there’s a challenge. Someone actually thinks I could do it and I haven’t even tried it yet. I’m going to have to try.”
O’Hanlon is now training to represent Australia at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics as an able-bodied pilot, in a sport which receives no government funding, O’Hanlon is looking to crowd-source funds to pay for equipment for the expensive sport.
If Toomey and O’Hanlon do qualify for the team, they will become the next line of Commonwealth Games athletes to compete in the sport and become the next generation of athletes to represent Australia at both a Summer and Winter Olympics.