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Wining in a Winter Wonderland

My name is Axel Brown and I am the captain of the Trinidad & Tobago national bobsleigh team.

It’s a tricky one to say where I’m from in Trinidad because I’ve only really reconnected with my Trini heritage in the last couple of years. I wanted to go see my mum’s house in Pointe-a-Pierre, where she’s from. But the first time I came over as an adult was in the middle of the covid lockdown. I couldn’t do anything other than be in my hotel room. I’ve only been out of Port of Spain a couple of times. So I guess Port of Spain.

I grew up in and still live in Harrogate, near Leeds. My grandad worked at the refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre in the 1950s but then, following my grandad’s work, the family moved to Barbados. So my trips to the Caribbean for weddings and things like that were to Barbados. But we’ve always known we were Trini and rooted for Trinidad and Tobago in track and field because my dad was a huge Ato Boldon fan. And my younger brother and I were always hearing our mum’s stories. It was a fun little fact about us – and then it manifested in this [winter sport] reconnection.

I was on the first flight I could possibly get in the window of being allowed to travel and the start of the [winter olympics] season but no beaches or bars were open. It was a rough two-and-a-half weeks, I won’t lie. I knew no one. I loosely knew the lawyers I’d been dealing with regarding the federation I was founding, with literally no athletes. I was dealing with mountains of paperwork, going to meetings and learning the nuances of different governing bodies.

The first thing I did was walk up Ariapita Avenue. From what I knew and had been told, the way into Trini culture was through the food; and that was absolutely right. I tried doubles, roti. I loved doubles. I’d seen pictures before and they’re not necessarily the most visually appealing dish. But I liked that kind of merging of cultures that happens in Trini food.

[Trinidad had] the same structure I was used to from doing a lead bobsleigh for seven years in the UK but the nuances were so different. One example: then TT Olympic Committee president Brian Lewis, we get along famously now, but we got off to a rough start. I read in the newspaper he’d said, “I don’t know this guy, he never came to visit me.” Eventually I explained that, in the UK, I would absolutely NEVER be allowed to talk to the Olympic Committee president. There were three different levels your request would have to be elevated through. He said, “You could have just swung by and said hello.” I had no idea that was even possible! The nuances were so different from the culture I grew up in but are part of the culture than I’m now part of.

I was in a team sport but I didn’t have a team. I’d been talking to Andrew Marcano, who ended up pushing with me in the Olympics. I was cold-calling people in person. I went along to the Concord Lake track and field session asking if people wanted to have a go. People asked, “Are you lost?” But I knew exactly where I was going.

The visa process to North America from the UK took minutes. I didn’t realise how agonisingly difficult it was for Trinis to get visas to North America.

I’ve never been the biggest sporting fan because I was never good at any sports where you needed a racket, a bat or a club.

I met West Indies wicketkeeper Josh Da Silva on my journey to Trinidad. I had my Trini cap on the flight from London and we both missed our connecting flight. And then stood chatting at the gate. He ended up giving me a ride from the airport. That’s my lone cricket anecdote.

I was thrown into all these social situations where I knew nothing. But I had to play the cards I was dealt. I went into every situation with an open mind, saying, “Look, I’m the lost one here.”

Everyone was really welcoming. People were understandably confused when they heard about bobsleigh – although, nowadays, they say, “Oh, you’re THAT guy!” I was doing something new but it was for the good of – of course, myself – but also obviously for the country. People can sense when you’re genuinely trying to do a good thing.

I’m glad if BC Pires says my sincerity comes through in what I say. It was a worry of mine that people would suspect or not know my intentions. Was I going to be using Trinidad and Tobago and its athletes to fulfil my own goals? I think people are perfectly valid in thinking that in the first place – but I wanted people to know that was not true. I was using the opportunity, sure - but what I was using it for was a more fulfilling life. I could have reached the same sporting goals with Great Britain. I’m glad there are guys who are now Olympians because of what I was able to start. It’s always been about the good of Trinidad and Tobago. What are we, as athletes, if we’re not representing the country and the people we’re representing?

I need a decent source of chadon beni in the UK.

Despite the trials and tribulations of getting to it, the first season and the Olympics qualification process went exactly as planned. After the Olympics, there was a period of reflection as to whether I wanted to continue. I had these ideas of what I’d do up to Milan, the 2026 games. But, coming back from Beijing, I was, like, “For eight years, I’ve been in this sport with the sole goal of getting to the Olympics. I’ve done the Olympics. Do I need anything more from bobsleigh?” I decided, “Yes, this is for me. I like being at the pinnacle of world sport and I like the situation I’m doing it in. Can I create goals that are as impactful?”

Bobsleigh can be so wild. You’re away in the cold for weeks on end. It takes a physical toll. If it’s not going well, it crashes. In those hard moments, you’ve got to have that thing that’s pulling you out of it, that thing you’re striving towards… How would those moments feel without the [driving force of] the Olympics? That’s what the season was a test of. And what was driving me forward was the people, everyone involved in the team. As much as I want to go to the next Olympics for me, I want to go and do well for my friends, my family, the other athletes with me. And Trinidad and Tobago.

We hit the podium with Canada and America for the first time in Caribbean history in the four-man event. That was huge! It was literally Canada, the USA and… Trinidad and Tobago! This had never happened before. That was a cool moment.

In the Olympics, we were 28th. At the World Championship we were 20th. That’s an eight-step progression in the right direction. If we can keep that upward projection, we can be top 15, top 12, outside goal being top ten. If we’re challenging countries that have tracks in their back garden, that’s quite a statement. And it paves the way for the next generation. I want to leave the sport in a much better way than I found it.

I don’t want TT bobsleigh to be treated like a sideshow, like, “Isn’t it cute that they’re there?” I want it to be, like, “Yeah, we’re here – and you’ve got to watch out for us!” People will be much more likely to engage with the sport knowing that we’re respected by the powerhouses: Russia; China; Canada; and little Trinidad and Tobago.

The Olympics was a realisation of a childhood dream, something you’ve been working for literally your entire life. I could have qualified for Great Britain but it categorically would have been far less fulfilling and enjoyable. The biggest thing has been the warmth with which we were received, the support and the result we got. My inbox on Instagram was full of people just saying thank you.

I have to strain my mind to find a downside of it but it’s been difficult finding people that want to get in a bobsleigh. And I totally understand that. There are so many super-talented athletes in TT – but finding people who want to jump in a sled when its minus 20 degrees for weeks on end is hard. We’ve got a couple of those guys who are really grifters but, when I was part of the British system, you had guys literally queuing up for a spot. It’s hard to explain to Trini athletes that, every goal you had in track and field can come through, just on the winter side of things.

The more we do, the more the word spreads. Let people know that we exist. And that we’re actually pretty good.

Truly, I didn’t appreciate the melting pot of cultures that Trinidad is. It was something I really liked.

Obviously, for me, I feel Trini in an athletic sense. But being Trini is about feeling proud. I’ve not met a single Trini who isn’t proud about being Trini. And I’m absolutely proud to be Trini. Pride can often be a negative thing but I don’t think that’s the case at all in being proud to be Trini. I’m incredibly proud to be doing what I’m doing and I’m incredibly proud to be doing it WHERE I’m doing it.

Trinidad and Tobago has meant opportunity to me. My childhood dream has come true, thanks to Trinidad and Tobago. My entire life’s work is down to my connection to Trinidad and Tobago. The support that has come along with that has meant everything to me. And it’s opened up a whole different world to me. I’ve now got lifelong friendships I’ve made in Trinidad and Tobago, this second home full of welcoming, inviting people I can’t wait to see again.