PYEONGCHANG — Four months ago, when the idea of Heather Moyse returning to the Olympics at age 39 was more of a wild concept than an actual reality, she said that one of the things she had been enjoying in her three-and-a-half year retirement was being able to wear jeans again.
So, can she still wear jeans?
Moyse, the two-time Olympic gold medallist, smiles. “Stretchy ones,” she says. Then she laughs. “Yay for stretchy jeans now.” More laughter. Now in her fourth Olympics, long after she thought that part of her life was long over, Moyse seems to be having a ball.
You have probably heard some of the comeback story. Quite settled into a career as a speaker and author, Moyse wasn’t interested into giving that up to be the brakeman again for her former pilot, Kaillie Humphries. They weren’t exactly pals, either. But then Alysia Rissling, one of the national team’s young pilots, contacted her on social media, via a hilariously long Instagram post. This intrigued Moyse. Coming back to mentor an Olympic rookie fit with her second career. She sought out doctors and therapists and then decided to give it a shot.
It has certainly worked out so far.
“I cannot believe how well we get along,” Rissling says. “I’ve been privileged to have some fantastic teammates over the years, but her and I just clicked. People keep asking if we are sisters or, like, soulmates, because we complement each other’s personalities so well.”
“As much as she has completely fulfilled the role that I was hoping she could fill” — not just with mentorship, but also being able to push fast — “the nicest part has been how much fun we are having.”
Despite the decade between them, pilot and brakeman are noticeably comfortable with each other. When Moyse is asked how much working out she has had to do to get back in Olympic shape, Rissling snorts audibly.
Moyse just smiles. “Well,” she says, “SOME people would maybe snicker at my workout routines.” She had to start slowly, she explains, and she has been cautious all along. The main objective is to not throw her surgically repaired back out of alignment, while preserving her natural explosiveness.
Rissling stops her teasing to say, “The most important thing is that she knows what works for her.”
“I feel like I’m really grateful for Rizz and the coaches, for their patience and their faith in my ability to get back to where I needed to be,” Moyse says. “And (for) the therapists.”
The same thing that helped her when she first started pushing bobsleds — a former track athlete, she found she had a knack for that initial burst — has helped her in her return. The raw power remains.
“I’ve come to realize that a lot of it is genetic,” Moyse says. “It actually surprises me a little bit.”
She says that over the months there have been times when she wondered whether it was the right call to come back, but right now, there is no second-guessing. “The whole thing is surreal,” Moyse says. “It feels actually great to be back in the circumstances in which I came back. Rizz does better when she’s having fun, so it’s been a really great season.”
That’s not say to that everything has been totally sorted. The breakneck speed of Moyse’s return and their burgeoning partnership means that they are still getting in time together. Asked how many actual competitive runs they have done in the same sled, the two start counting them off. Five, 10, and then 12 makes 22 and two yesterday. “And one today,” says Moyse. “So, 25.” She looks at Rissling. “Hey, 25!” They exchange a high-five, laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Rissling and Moyse are part of the first three-sled women’s team for Canada at an Olympics, with all of them showing podium potential. There is Humphries, of course, trying for an unprecedented third straight gold, this time with Phylicia George, a former Olympic hurdler, as her brakeman. Christine de Bruin, the third pilot, had the best training runs of any of the Canadians on Sunday, with a third and a fourth place. There are definite medal possibilities in this bunch, but the Germans and Americans will be there, too.
Not that Moyse and Rissling can be baited into expectations talk.
“Expectations are dangerous,” Moyse says.
“We know what we are capable of,” Rissling responds.
They say they can only focus on the things they can control — their push, their velocity, their turns — and the rest will follow. Moyse says all this to a reporter, and Rissling smiles. She has heard this before from her brakeman, almost certainly directed at her. This is why she wrote that crazy-long Instagram post. And now the double-gold medallist is in her sled, and their Olympics is just days away.
“We’ll see what happens,” Moyse says. “I think we are both pretty happy with where things are at.”
Happy sure seems like the right word.