Where are they now?
Georgie Cohen (BA German and Hispanic Studies 2012)
German and Hispanic studies alumna Georgie is hoping to become the first female skeleton bobsleigh representative for Israel at Winter Olympics 2022, and has recently finished competing at the World Championships. We spoke to her about her time at Sheffield and her life since graduating.
What did you study?
I studied German and Hispanic Studies, a four-year BA hons programme from 2008-2012. I always enjoyed languages in school, then at sixth-form, I switched to Spanish from scratch as an intense A-level in 2-year course. As it came to choosing my subjects, studying at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, it was a difficult decision as to whether I would pursue my creative side and study graphic design, or continue my investment in languages. After numerous pros and cons lists and in-depth conversations with my parents, languages won the coin toss, with the career and travel opportunities being so diverse and transferable.
I love to explore and travel. Writing currently surrounded by the mountains of Whistler in Canada, I have a fairly nomadic personality, which is reflected in my pursuit of skeleton - a sport that takes you all over the world. The fact that the four-year course offered the chance to live, study and work abroad was very attractive to me. Whether or not you are studying languages, to this day, the year abroad provided some of my most valuable and enriching life experiences.
What first attracted you to Sheffield?
I had a few criteria I wanted to fulfil: I wanted to be near somewhere like the Peak District so I could go climbing and it needed to provide a good curriculum in my subjects.
In terms of choosing a university on its subject-based qualities, I liked the fact that Sheffield offered more than just a degree in “language”. I was able to study history, literature, popular culture and more. My last essay in Hispanic Studies was on the perception of women in sports, something I continue to take a huge interest in. I hope in my role as an athlete I can help to battle gender stereotypes.
What were some of your favourite things to do in Sheffield?
Sheffield was a great place to be a student. I was on the ladies boxing team and I had a membership at the each of indoor climbing walls. And obviously… the Peak District!
What is your best memory of Sheffield?
“Fajita Fridays”. I made some of my best friends at University (cliche!) and they invented Fajita Friday among the group. Every Friday one of you would host, rotating to one of our houses each week. Everyone who comes along pairs up - one buys the chicken, the other buys the fajita pack - which ensured perfect quantities every time. The host (or my friend Joell) would cook and then we’d feast away. Sometimes it was a quiet night in…others we’d go out afterward. I think the largest Fajita Friday we hosted was around 20 people strong. If we have a reunion now, we’ll always do a Fajita Friday!
You are now competing around the world in the skeleton bobsleigh - how did you get started with skeleton?
My dad! He’d just turned 50 as he took up bobsleigh. To begin with, we thought this was a midlife crisis but he was actually a really good bobsleigh pilot and competed on the British amateur circuit for a few years. I watched him compete in Lillehammer, Norway. I didn’t dare to have a go then but a few years later I was given the fantastic opportunity to have a go at skeleton. My dad received a call from the Royal Navy Skeleton team offering a spare sled for a week on their ice camp, and did I want to try it?
The first time I went down the track I was instantly hooked. The Navy team adopted me during their annual 2-week ice camps, and I progressed self-funded in the amateur fields. I built great relationships with the Navy, RAF and Army teams as well as the British development setup; at a recent European Cup race, the RAF coach helped me to prepare for a competition in Germany.
Last year, I knew this was becoming a dream worth chasing. I knew that if I wanted to pursue it, I want to do it for Israel, for my family, and to be a part of helping change perceptions of women in sport.
What does the experience of hurtling down the track feel like?
It’s absolutely addictive and exhilarating. The athlete works for less than one minute in order to shave off hundredths of seconds each run and it can range between absolute elation or frustration depending on the results. To skid, hit a wall, or select the wrong equipment for the day - all of these things can affect the time it takes to reach the bottom of the track. As skeleton is so close to the ice, the feeling of speed becomes more relative to pressure and reaction time.
Any track feels fast, but I’m currently based in Whistler, the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics and the fastest track in the world; the top speed I’ve hit here is around 83mph. This track is very technical, so the athlete needs to be switched on the whole way down the track - and you definitely don’t want to miss a steer or it hurts!
You have been selected as the first woman to compete for Israel at the World Championships - what are some of the challenges of competing for and training in countries without a traditional background in winter sports?
As a British-Israeli citizen, neither of my countries have an ice track to train on. This means I have to travel abroad to train in the winter as a self-funded athlete. During summer, I train hard to improve my push start. This work is done back at the gym through weightlifting and at the sprint track. I work with one of the athletes at British Bobsleigh, Ben Simons, to curate a sport-specific programme. Summer for me really is work, gym, sleep, repeat!
Competing at the Olympics in Beijing 2022 representing Israel is my big dream, and I will work hard over the next four seasons to qualify. The Israeli program is currently self-funded, and I have a full-time job at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. I am grateful that my colleagues have been supportive in allowing me to train for the World Championships. However, getting as much training time on the ice over the next year is key. I need to achieve my funding and support targets of £30-40K to help me reach my full development potential and get me through the World Championships and the 2019-2020 season. These targets would give me a running, or rather sliding start in this three-year journey.
Bobsleigh Skeleton Israel Olympic Federation was founded in 2002 by Israeli bobsleigh athletes, including the current President, David Greaves. It has since had a number of talented skeleton athletes proud to represent Israel, including our first skeleton athlete at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang 2018. This year has been an exciting development for the programme marked at the recent BMW IBSF World Championships event in Whistler with representation across both the bobsleigh and skeleton disciplines. It was a huge honour to have been the first female to stand on the start line and represent Israel at the World Champs.
What are some of the best experiences competing in skeleton bobsleigh has given you?
There are far too many to choose from. I’ll choose one! Sliding with double-Olympic gold medallist, Lizzy Yarnold…she won.
When you’re away from the ice what do you get up to?
I’m currently based in Cambridge, UK, and work at Cambridge Judge Business School as Online Communications Officer. In my role, I work on website projects to showcase the School's research, and to manage the main CJBS social media accounts. On a typical day, you’ll find me at the gym after work. At the weekends, I like to see my family and dogs, or to sit down with my paintbrush and pens. It’s important to have an outlet that allows you to relax and refocus.
What is your ultimate goal for the future (aside from Olympic Gold)?
For the time-being, qualifying to represent Israel at the Winter Olympics in skeleton bobsleigh really is my only goal, knowing that it will ultimately have a positive outcome for my country and for women in sport. I want to see a positive impact by challenging gender stereotypes in sport and to inspire everyone be the best version of themselves and to do good, to pursue their passion and achieve their own dreams.