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On the right track

As the bobsleigh heats get under way at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang tomorrow (Sunday 18 February), Team GB bobsledder Joel Fearon tells Claire Brine how God inspires him

I didn't think I would make it in sport

IN 2014, Joel Fearon did something he never thought he would do. He competed as a member of Team GB in the bobsleigh event at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The four-man team finished in fifth place, and the experience went down in Joel’s book as one of the most exciting times of his life.

Four years later, Joel is back in his bobsleigh and ready to tackle his second Winter Olympics, this time in Pyeongchang. ‘It’s a massive blessing to be here,’ he tells me over the phone, shortly after collecting his Team GB kit. ‘I feel honoured to wear my country’s flag. As an athlete, it’s so exciting to see that all the years of grafting have paid off.’

At the time of our conversation Joel doesn’t yet know whether he will be competing in the two-man or four-man bobsleigh event, a decision that will be made by his coach. Nor does he know which position in the bobsleigh he will take. Many times, he says, he’s ‘the guy at the back’.

‘Normally, the quickest people are put at the back, so I’m either there or on the left side. Our coach will make a decision based on what is going to make our sled go the fastest.

‘When we get to compete, our team’s number one focus is to be on point so that we can make our start time as quick as possible. Also, we need to think about the track. No one has really been to the track in South Korea. The bobsleigh drivers have seen it only once or twice – but that is good news for us, because it means that there’s not much of an advantage for any of the other countries. We are all on an even playing field, and those are the times when we perform a lot better.’

While flying down an icy track at a speed of 90 mph may be thrilling, Joel also knows that bobsleighing is a potentially dangerous sport. He relies on his faith in God to help him through each competition.

‘I’m a Christian, so I firmly believe that God has put me on this path and guided me to where I am today,’ he says. ‘I’m grateful that he has his hand on my life, so now I just take enjoyment from the sport and know that I will be protected. ‘Before I compete, I pray for a sound heart and a sound mind. I know that I’m not going to win every event. Sometimes being an athlete is difficult because you’re defined by a number or a position, but for me it’s important to put all that aside. I want to make sure that I do my best, have a happy heart and I enjoy myself.’ Joel explains that his faith gives him comfort when the pressure of competing in professional sport becomes particularly stressful.

‘It’s easy to be full of faith when everything is going my way, but there are times when it can be difficult,’ he says. ‘I know that God has brought me this far – and he’s not brought me this far to make me a failure. So in every situation I ask: “How can God use me?”

Whatever happens, I want him to help me be graceful and encourage people.’

Joel became a Christian when he was 20 years old after his girlfriend (now wife) took him to church. He remembers that he was going through a difficult time.

‘My wife helped to save me,’ he says. ‘Back then I didn’t know what my life was going to become. I didn’t think I would make it in sport. It was difficult.

‘But when I went to church, the message touched me. It was as though God was speaking just to me, saying that he had hope in me, that there was more for me, that it wasn’t

the end. He encouraged me to get up and keep moving forward. On the outside, people might have thought I was strong, but in reality I was broken.

‘Sometimes I still feel broken. But today my strength comes from God. He picks me up in all my difficult situations, keeps me moving forward and makes amazing things happen.’ Perhaps no one was more amazed than Joel when, competing in the England Athletics Championships in 2016, he ran the 100m in 9.96 seconds, making him the fastest man in Britain – and the third fastest British runner of all time, behind Linford Christie and James Dasaolu. Today, when his commitment is split between running and bobsleighing, I ask him what is the secret behind his double sporting success. ‘My faith,’ he replies. ‘It brings me strength and courage. And in every situation, it gives me the ability to push forward and prevail.’ 

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