Athlete Spotlight – Alex Kopacz
This article is brought to you by the Canadian Olympic Foundation for their newsletter STRIVE.
The chances of tying in the sport of bobsleigh is remarkably slim, with run times coming down to just fractions of a second. So, the chances of not only tying for gold, but doing so exactly 20 years after the first time it happened sounds not only unbelievable but down right impossible. Well, that’s exactly what Alex Kopacz achieved, at his first ever Winter Olympic Games.
History happened fast, hundredth of a second fast as Alex and his pilot Justin Kripps crossed the finish line in 2-man bobsleigh in PyeongChang. The moment was a blur, pandemonium on the track as Team Canada ties with the German team for the title of Olympic Champion. Last time that happened was in 1998 where Canada and the Italians achieved the same mind-blowing tie in Nagano.
“Justin and I went into the Olympic Games thinking we would just continue doing what we had been doing because it was working well for us”, explained Alex about going into the PyeongChang Winter Games, “We knew we had a chance at winning but never did it cross my mind that we would come out Olympic Champions.”
The 28-year old, first-generation Canadian is incredibly grateful for the opportunities Canada has given him. His Polish parents came here with very little but made sure he had exposure to all of the opportunities that this great country could give him. Never one to pass up learning a new sport or skill, Alex went into athletics, building his strength in shot put at a varsity level. During his time at the University of Western Ontario, it was mentioned to him that he should try out for bobsleigh through a talent ID camp. Intrigued, he did just that. Fast forward a few years and Alex was already showing exceptional talent in bobsleigh. He and his coach realized he could not only excel at the sport, but he had an excellent chance of being one of the best brakemen in the world.
Now that might go to the head of most athletes, but this doesn’t seem to shake the humble, grounded and well-spoken London, Ontario native.
“It’s not every day that you have parents that are such strong role models. I look at them and see what they have achieved, how they have faced adversity and their tremendous drive and willpower. They ground me and are always there telling me ‘Alex remember what you have done to this point. You’re going to keep going. It’s going to be fine’.”
Along with a strong support system, he works incredibly hard training with his coach and mentor Olaf Hampel in Germany during the offseason. His focus? His weaknesses from the previous season. Alex knows that no matter what the outcome, even if it’s gold, there is always something to improve upon. This dedication and extraordinary work ethic is what sets him apart and allows him to strive in his sport. Although, there is one other thing that may have had a hand in his success. Hampel gifted Alex with a scarf that Alex wears during every race. There’s no way to prove that helped him with his goals, but that same scarf brought Hampel gold twice so there’s definitely a few parallels.
As with most sports, training for bobsleigh isn’t cheap. From a disciplined diet right down to carefully calculated workout routines and track time, it adds up and can become a burden on most athletes. Alex is all too familiar with these expenses as he trains in Germany. This means travel, accommodation and food get added onto an already hefty bill. One full season of training as a brakeman can cost upwards of $20,000.
Clearly the training has paid off, so what’s next after becoming an Olympic Champion?
After Alex has a moment to catch his breath from his whirlwind Olympic experience, he’s focused on sharing his win with anyone, both young and old, through school and community events. He wants to share his win with as many Canadians as possible as a thank you for supporting athletes like himself for so many years.
Alex also wants to inspire everyone to do great things. When asked if he had any words of wisdom to pass on to future Olympians or anyone with big dreams and goals he simply replied, “Always be open to new ideas. Even if something has been done one way for years, do not be afraid of being innovative and trying something new. Learn as much as you can. You can learn something meaningful from every single person.”
After all, if he wasn’t open to something new, he may never have been crowned Olympic Champion.