Cassie Hawrysh isn’t booking her trip to Sochi, Russia just yet.
But the 28-year-old Neelin High School graduate is indeed on pace to become Brandon’s next Olympian. Hawrysh took a major step towards competing in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with a superb rookie season on the World Cup women’s skeleton tour in 2012-13, finishing eighth overall and just missing the podium twice with a pair of fourth-place finishes.
"It was everything I thought it would be and a whole lot of stuff I couldn’t have imagined," said Hawrysh, who is back in Calgary after completing the World Cup season in Sochi a couple of weeks ago. "So it was a really, really great rookie season. … It was a big learning curve for me with all the new tracks and all the new experiences and new places, being able to look back on it now, I wouldn’t have changed anything I did because all the experiences that I did have this year are going to help shape this coming Olympic year and subsequently the years coming to the next Olympics after that. So it was definitely a great experience."
Hawrysh’s rapid rise in the sport has accelerated her expectations and put her on the fast track to Sochi.
By finishing fifth (Sarah Reid), sixth (Mellisa Hollingsworth) and eighth (Hawrysh) in the final World Cup rankings this season, Canada is well on its way to qualifying three women’s skeleton racers for next year’s Sochi Olympics. The trio can clinch their trips to the Olympic Games by again qualifying this fall for Canada’s World Cup team — Reid already has her spot locked up — and posting a top-six finish in one of the first four races on the tour next season.
While she is taking nothing for granted, Hawrysh knows she is tantalizingly close to making her Olympic dream come true.
"I have to acknowledge that the Olympics are a huge, huge possibility, almost guaranteed, but nothing is guaranteed," she said. "I am in a very, very good position to be going (to the Olympics) ... but I have make sure to take everything one day at a time. So far it’s been one big event after another, so I am just keeping everything even keel and doing everything that I can do right up until the day I am standing on the line in Sochi representing Canada."
Hawrysh has taken a couple of weeks to rest and recuperate, but is looking at getting in a few more runs in Calgary and Whistler, B.C., before packing up the sled for the winter and beginning her off-season training regimen.
"I am trying to relax, but I think my brain and my body know that sliding is not quite done," said Hawrysh, who plans to return home to Manitoba for a visit this spring. "While we’re done racing, our track is open here in Calgary and Whistler track is open for another few weeks … and then I will officially shut down the sliding portion and start our hard-core summer training around mid-April."
As a carded athlete, Hawrysh receives some limited federal sport funding, but is also looking for sponsorship to allow her to train full-time this spring and summer as she prepares for the next national team selection races in October. And while she capped her World Cup season with a frustrating 16th-place finish last month in Sochi, Hawrysh had some terrific training runs in Russia and is determined to get back there to race in next year’s Olympics.
"Honestly, nobody sees the training and I was sliding pretty well for two weeks (in Sochi)," Hawrysh said. "There were times when I was coming across the line in fourth, coming across the line in sixth, so I was on pace to have a really good race ... But dress rehearsals are for screwing up, which is what I did. It wasn’t an entire disaster because I pushed really well, but I made all the mistakes that I could have made, as far as I’m concerned. But I do like that track; it’s very challenging and it’s going to be a precision track and I think that plays to my advantage."
If everything goes according to plan, Hawrysh will get a chance to prove it a year from now — with an Olympic medal on the line.