Bree Walker had been in athletics for over 10 years, a middle-distance hurdler and runner with aspirations to represent Australia. While watching the Rio Olympics at home in 2016, she faced a tough decision, to continue her current journey or take a new path?
“I sat there watching the Olympics and asked myself the big question, do I think I can make it in 400 hurdles? I still think I could have made an Australian team, but whether that was Olympics or not, I am not so sure,” Walker said.
It was in that moment that Walker decided to make the tough call on her athletics career and transition to bobsleigh.
“Bobsleigh was always something in the back of my mind that I would do after track and field. I watched Cool Runnings, they were all sprinters and I thought ‘oh yeah, I can do that.’ Then you have Jana Pittman, who was one of my role models growing up, she made the switch so that helped me decide that I could do it,” the 28-year-old said.
“I was watching the Rio Olympics after just coming back from college in America. That didn’t really work out too well for me. I became quite slow over there which tends to happen when Australian or international athletes get thrown into collegiate system. They tend to go backwards and never go forwards again. That’s where I was at.”
Walker had been successful in athletics. She won multiple state and national medals, including becoming State Champion in the 400 metre hurdles and attended college in the United States with a full track and field scholarship to the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.
“It was a matter of having so much to make up because I was so much slower. Plus, even more to get onto Aussie team as there were some fast girls coming through the ranks. I had to think whether I was realistically going to do this. I was young and fit, so I googled bobsleigh,” Walker said.
Googling bobsleigh in Australia didn’t provide as much information as Walker was expecting but she was eventually able to get the information required.
“It was actually awful to find information on. All I found was this broken website that had a camp coming up. I emailed the site to get more info and I was surprised when I got a reply. I instantly booked a ticket to Sydney for the camp. My mum thought I was absolutely crazy,” the Mt Evelyn local said.
“There were six girls in the camp and three of us ended up going away to Whistler, Canada. Whistler is a fast track and known to be most the dangerous. Going down that track for the first time, going so fast, we definitely got thrown in the deep end.”
It was a steep learning curve for Walker, wanting to take as much in as quickly as she could, because 2018 was a Winter Olympic year.
“I entered 2018 with determination. I was learning different tracks and that is really where I started to find out what the sport was about. We really did our best as a team to make it to Olympics in the two-man bobsleigh. To get qualification, we needed to do five races on three different tracks in three years, which is what we did,” Walker said.
It was then up to the national federation, Sliding Sports Australia (SSA), to nominate the team. In a decision shrouded in controversy, the women’s bobsleigh team was not nominated for the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
“Unfortunately, SSA said as we didn’t achieve some push start standards, they weren’t putting the team forward. I was told by the federation over a phone call not to focus on them, to focus on driving and learning tracks, but then they turned around and said we weren’t going because of the push start standards. Then it was because lack of experience and it being only our second year in sport,” Walker said.
“I had learnt the required five tracks and I was completely competent to go down each time, but they didn’t have the confidence in me. That was really disheartening. Especially when you try so hard and in the back of your mind you plan on going to the Olympics because you are ticking what I thought were the required boxes.”
To say Walker has improved since 2018 is an understatement. Four years in the sport and now completing full European seasons, her hard work is paying off. Traditionally a two-woman bobsleigh pilot, finishing 14th in their world championship debut this year, Walker has branched out to monobob which will also feature in the next Winter Olympics.
Monobob has been a success story for the talented athlete, making history as the winner of the first ever women’s events in 2018 and the medals have flowed in competitions since, including back to back wins in March this year.
“It was quite exciting to win gold in monobob. I was quite tired after this year’s world champs, physically and mentally exhausted. I managed to pull it all together and it turned out very well,” Walker said.
The desire to represent Australia in the Olympics still burns strong for Walker, with her sights firmly set on Beijing 2022
“Our team for 2022, Stef Fernandez and Sarah Blizzard, we are ready to go. When I asked if they were ready to prepare for an Olympic campaign, they didn’t even question it. These girls have a lot of potential in the sport,” the former hurdler said.
“People ask if I would be as good as I am now if I did actually go to the 2018 Olympics, I don’t think like that. At end of day, I believe everything happens for a reason. Going to those last Olympics in PyeongChang was just going to be a part of my journey, a steppingstone along the way, it wasn’t the end goal.”
“Is that my story to tell? A comeback story after missing out on the Olympics? It doesn’t make a difference to my journey. It is a matter of figuring out how we can go the 2022 Olympics to be competitive and not just make up numbers.”
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