It’s still too early to measure Heather Moyse’s impact since officially returning to the sport of bobsleigh. But her new pilot, Alysia Rissling, is grateful to have the two-time Olympic gold medallist in her sled as she looks to qualify for her first Winter Games in February.
“It’s a team sport. It takes two people to win an Olympic medal and you need both people from start to finish,” Rissling says. “With her experience and being in that position before, she can bring almost a foreshadowing voice.”
The 28-year-old from Edmonton decided to reach out to Moyse about joining her sled during Bobsleigh Canada’s first physical testing camp.
“It was actually an Instagram message because I didn’t even have her email,” Rissling laughs.
That initial message turned into phone conversations and, eventually, Moyse’s return to Team Canada
“She did say that she had been in contact with our high performance director, who’s been on her for like two years and she kept saying ‘no, no, no, no,'” Rissling says. “But now, speaking to me, getting to know more about how I run my team and what I stand for, it kind of changed her perspective on coming back and she started to see things in a new light, I guess.”
The news of Moyse’s return came as a “surprise” to her former pilot Humphries, who says she asked Moyse to reunite for a run at a third consecutive Olympic gold medal together.
“Heading into this season on separate teams will be a new experience but one I have planned for,” Humphries told CBC’s Devin Heroux. “Every sport is stronger anytime a champion returns. I applaud Heather’s decision to return to bobsleigh. I think it’s great for the team.”
Rissling understood the potential for “a little bit more of an awkward, stressful environment,” even before Moyse’s return was announced.
“It’s so hard in bobsleigh because we have three teams within Team Canada and we’re actually direct competitors with each other,” Rissling says. “Something that’s very important to me is always having respect and really utilizing everyone in the program.”
On Moyse’s first day back in Calgary, Rissling joined the 39-year-old for a breakfast meeting with Canadian brakemen Cynthia Appiah and Melissa Lotholz to clear the air. Rissling won bronze with Appiah at last season’s World Cup event on the track that will be used at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.
“All they’ve ever heard of her is [from] media relations and relationships she’s had with other teammates and they just hear through the grapevine. I wanted them to have the opportunity to form their own opinions by meeting her directly first,” Rissling says, adding that the meeting went “really well.”
“They were very patient in wanting to hear it out and I think everyone is agreed that going forward this will create a positive environment for the entire team.”
The 2018 Winter Games would be Rissling’s first Olympics, compared to potentially the fourth for Moyse. She hopes that her World Cup experience in South Korea, coupled with Moyse’s tutelage and steadying influence, can provide the “missing pieces” to help her close the gap on the sport’s top sleds.
“It’s been a long, long development where you’re constantly trying to close the gap on the girls that are always ahead of you, and the three girls who won the Olympic medals in 2014 are still the ones that continue to dominate women’s bobsleigh right now,” Rissling says, referring to Humphries and American pilots Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser.
Rissling acknowledges that Moyse still has work to do to be physically ready for the rigours of the sport. But she’s confident following the pair’s first in-person meeting, which was documented by a camera person.
“It was so natural meeting her, as much as it was awkward because it was on camera,” Rissling says. “Even from talking to her on the phone, I knew we were going to be fast friends and our personalities get along really well and it was just easy.
“It was very exciting.”