Talent Transfer (Part One)

In this blog post, I will examine my journey from being an Olympian in one sport, to being selected for an Olympics in a completely different one. This process is known as “talent transfer”, and is becoming increasingly common. Within my second sport, Bobsleigh, everyone in the Great Britain squad started off in another sport. The most common of these sports is athletics, with sprinters and long-jumpers making up the vast majority of these. Globally, bobsleigh teams are increasingly recruiting from athletics; Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones compete for USA, Jana Pittman for bobsleigh, and 2008 Olympic Silver Medallist Hanna Marien for Belgium. Outside of bobsleigh, Rebecca Romero successfully went from rowing to cycling, winning Olympic medals in both. Michael Jordan transferred from basketball to baseball, and back again. The opportunity is there for athletes who fancy trying something new, for whatever reason, to do so. So, below are my 11 tips for transferring your skills from one arena to another.


This will be a multi-part blog, as it’s pretty long. In part one we are going to examine the decision making process that leads to transferring your talent. Parts two and three will look at the more practical aspects of actually transferring your skill, and integrating into a new team.


  1. Consider Your Options


There will likely be a stimulus for you wanting to consider something else. For me, a few years of relative underperformance and injury in athletics led to me being removed from funding at the end of 2012. This left me with two options; find a real job and continue with athletics, or find someone else who might be able to fund me. I thought I would struggle to balance athletics training and full-time employment, plus I was fed up with hoping that next year would be better in terms of performance. So I decided to consider other options. A very attractive option, and one that I had considered (fleetingly!) before was bobsleigh; my athletics coach was now employed as a coach by British Bobsleigh, and two of my training partners were bobsleigh athletes. The performance director also kept joking that he wanted to see me have a go; turns out that he was semi-serious.


After this stimulus, you need to consider your options. What are the pros and cons of a) doing nothing and staying where you are, and b) changing to another sport/job? Why would you want to Talent Transfer? The main pro for me was the chance to go to an Olympic Games within 16 months of first considering bobsleigh. This was especially attractive as I had missed the 2012 Olympics through injury. The chance to meet new people and have new experiences was also really attractive, particularly as athletics was essentially the same people and places year after year. Added to the fact that my 100m personal best wouldn’t even qualify me for the athletics team anymore, it seemed like a pretty easy decision.


  1. Approach People In The Know


Once you’ve had the stimulus to consider your options, and thought it through, you need to know if other people think it’s a reasonable idea. The first person I approached was my athletics coach, who was employed by British Bobsleigh and was a former bobsleigh athlete himself. I asked him what if he thought I had what was required to be successful in bobsleigh, and he was very positive. I then thought about the other bobsleigh athletes that I knew, and considered about whether, on a physical level, I could compete with them. I thought that I could. So then I approached the bobsleigh Performance Director, Gary Anderson, who was very keen to meet with me and discus options. Gary told me that I had been one of his target athletes for a few years – whether this was true or not, it was really good to hear, and added to my confidence that this could be a successful move.


  1. Have A Taste


The next step is to see if you will actually be any good at your new endeavor. You don’t have to be brilliant straight away, but similarly, if you show no potential, then it’s probably not a good idea to pursue this change. Before announcing that I was going to transfer to bobsleigh, I traveled down to Bath for an appraisal, which consisted of some of the standard performance tests British Bobsleigh carry out. I was incredibly nervous for this, as it was probably the time where I would have to decide whether or not I was good enough for bobsleigh; fortunately I tested incredibly well, which further fuelled my belief that I could successfully transfer across.


  1. Commit


At this point, you’ve considered your options, you’ve spoken to people in the know about your idea, and you’ve given it a go. There isn’t anything left to do but decide, so make your decision and commit! Once I decided that I wanted to do bobsleigh, I fully gave it everything I had. I knew my athletics career was going to be significantly affected, if not finished, at least for the short term. And this was actually a relief to me. Having grown up wanting desperately to be a successful athlete, and (almost) every year of my senior career falling short of those goals, to be liberated from that feeling was actually a really positive feeling.


If you’re serious about transferring from one area to another, then you really do have to give it your all. If you try and keep a foot in both camps, then you’re stunting your potential in both. Being world class at anything requires you to live and breathe that particular thing. Failure to commit will lead to you becoming a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.

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