By Rob Cole
Welsh sport has lost a second iconic figure this week following the decision by British Olympic bobsleigh expert Bruce Tasker to retire.
Hot on the heels of the move by Welsh hockey 100-cap goalkeeper Dave Kettle to bring his stellar international career to a close, Tasker has followed suit.
The 31-year-old, often described as ‘Mr Bobsleigh’, spent eight years at the top and was robbed of a chance to chase an Olympic medal in PyeongChang earlier this year when he suffered a stroke.
He had been considering bringing his competitive career to an end after the Winter Olympics, but the illness forced his hand.
The Kilgetty-born athlete is still waiting to see if he finally receives the Olympic bronze medal he is due from Sochi, where he finished fifth behind two Russian four-man sleds that have since been disqualified. Along with John Jackson, Stu Benson and Joel Fearon he is due a retrospective medal, which would make him Wales’ first Winter Olympic medalist ahead of Laura Deas, who won bronze in skeleton in PyeongChang earlier in the year.
“Bruce has had an outstanding career and for me he epitomises what is required to be a bobsleigher. He is a true professional, a true athlete and, more importantly, a true gent,” said British Bobsleigh head coach, Lee Johnston.
“He will be missed greatly, but we back his decision 100 per cent. We know he will stay in touch and we hope to welcome him back into the fold in another capacity in the not too distant future.”
Tasker quit a promising career in athletics that saw him crowned Welsh 200 metre champion in 2008 in 21.85 sec and pick up two silvers and a bronze in the 400 metres. He also won the British Universities 400 metre crown.
“It’s a decision I’ve not taken lightly and one I have been thinking about for over a year. The stroke I suffered early in the year certainly had an impact but, after eight years in the sport, I was preparing to step down anyway,” said Tasker.
“I wish all the athletes the best of luck this year on season and hope that one day I can be involved in the sport again.”
As well as his historic Olympic exploits in Sochi four years ago, Tasker tasted success on the World Cup, Europa Cup and North American Cup circuits.
He won World Cup silver with his Sochi crew at Lake Placid in 2013, World Cup bronze with Brad Hall, Greg Cackett and Fearon in Park City last year and appeared at no fewer than six World Championships after joining the programme in 2010.
Using his track speed at first, Tasker began as a push athlete before going on to become a pilot, making history at the 2016 World Championships when he drove Fearon to a fourth-place finish in the 2-man competition – Great Britain’s best World Championship result in that discipline for half a century.
“When he first arrived here we knew he was going to be the total package. And at no time has that ever changed,” added Johnston.
“He was heavily involved in some of the country’s biggest success stories in recent years and he made a massive impression as both a driver and a push athlete.
“It’s not exaggerating to say that there are very few British bobsleigh athletes that have achieved so much as both a brakeman and a pilot at the same time. Bruce got world-class results in the back of the sled and in the front.
“Just as importantly, he had a huge impact as a person, he was ‘Mr Bobsleigh’. Everything he did, he did for the good of the team.
“He had a big presence in the squad and was respected by all his teammates and the staff, both on and off the ice. Bruce’s stroke was a big setback for him personally and for the team, but his disappointment didn’t stop him coming to the hotel to wish everyone all the best before we flew to PyeongChang.”