By Nick Hope
BBC Olympic sports reporter
He is “rubbish” with foreign languages and is yet to learn the Swiss national anthem, but this weekend British Olympic bronze medallist Joel Fearon will make his debut for Switzerland’s national bobsleigh team.
Fearon is taking advantage of a rule in his sport which allows athletes to compete for other nations outside of an Olympic Games.
“I can say ‘guten Tag’ [good day], but seriously that’s literally it,” he chuckles.
“I’ve travelled to so many countries but not picked up much, which is really bad.”
That is why one of the most successful nations in the history of the sport has taken the 31-year-old ‘on loan’ for the 2019-20 campaign, beginning with the season-opening Europe Cup event this weekend at Winterberg in Germany.
His language skills may leave more than a little to be desired, but few can rival Fearon’s brilliance as a brakeman in the world of bobsleigh.
The former 100m runner, whose personal best of 9.96 seconds puts him joint fifth on the British all-time list, told BBC Sport: “It’s a massive honour to think that a nation like Switzerland has recognised the work I’ve done in the sport over the last eight years.
“I was humbled by the phone call, but above all this will be a chance to understand and learn new techniques that’ll hopefully bring a little extra magic to the British sled.”
‘I bought a fake Olympic medal’
Fearon was part of the Team GB four-man bobsleigh line-up who were awarded a retrospective bronze medal in November from Sochi 2014 following the disqualification of two Russian sleds for doping offences.
It followed five years of speculation, uncertainty and appeals, but Fearon says that unlike his former team-mates, he had no doubts.
“I’ve been calling myself an Olympic bronze medallist for about three years and I’ve definitely celebrated it four or five times,” says Fearon.
“I even went online and bought a replica medal because I wanted to have something to show and inspire kids with when I go in to do school talks.”
Although there is clear frustration among the bronze medal-winning team at being denied a place on the podium in Sochi, Fearon is philosophical.
“There would have been more funding if we’d had the medal then and we’d all have had more opportunities to progress in the sport and financially,” he says.
“The year after that Olympics was really tough for my family and we decided to focus back on athletics and we had to ‘tighten the strings’, but then I went on to run sub-10 seconds and do things I never thought possible.
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“Also, back in 2014 I only had one son to celebrate it with, now I have three so there were some benefits to the presentation being delayed.”
No funding, no problem
Fearon plans to return to the GB team next summer and push for what would be his third Winter Olympics in 2022, but knows it will be a difficult journey.
The British men’s team receive no funding, with UK Sport deciding to remove all support for the squad after they failed to challenge for an Olympic medal at last year’s Games.
“I remember at this point before Sochi we weren’t funded and obviously in Sochi we ended up with a medal, so I know what’s possible,” he says.
“It won’t be easy and probably a real challenge, but our team is actually bigger now with more competitive pilots who are working so hard and when I’m finished with the Swiss I’ll be back, ready to go again for GB.”
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