The atmosphere at the top of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games sliding track just prior to the four-man bobsled was unlike anything I’ve experienced.
Grown men towards and heavier than 100kg beating their chests, yelling at themselves and their teammates and working through their explosive starts on a running track perched high above the starting block; it was tribal, intimidating and captivating.
Then comes the start itself.
I had the pleasure of watching Hale School’s very own Lucas Mata compete in the first run of four-man at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and he agrees the top of a track is a special place.
“It’s just unreal, the noise and stuff like that at the top is just sensational,” Mata said.
“The four-man bob is sort of the 100 metres of the winter Olympics and it’s insane, going down and firing up for five or six seconds of work at the top; it gets a little bit macho up there.
“It’s electric having the crowd shouting and pumping you up and then having your teammates there firing each other up. It’s pretty amazing and even talking about it now I get goosebumps, thinking back to that first run and the nerves running through me and my heart pumping and making sure everything is going to go right. Four man is one of those events where so much can go wrong.”
For Mata and the Australian team, things didn’t go wrong in Sochi, completing three successful runs of a very technical track to finish 22nd.
That result was two places shy of our best finish in the four-man at an Olympic Games; 20th at Lillehammer 1994, with former Faulkner House house assistant, Scott ‘Tex’ Walker, among the crew.
"I was in Sochi covering ice hockey for the Olympic News Service and alpine skiing for the Paralympic News Service, which all started for me in year 8 at Hale.
Following a holiday to watch the Sydney 2000 Games, I knew I wanted to be involved with the Olympics. I started playing as many different sports as I could and after turning my back on a fledgling firsts badminton career in year 10 (sorry Mr Parish) and an even more short-lived campaign in the firsts for volleyball in year 12 (apologies to Mr Ashby), I realised the media was where I wanted to be.
Various factors and decisions led me to the London 2012 Games where I covered volleyball for the Olympic News Service and helped the International Paralympic Committee out with its media operations. But perhaps none were more influential than the experiences and lessons from my time at Hale."
It’s a sentiment held by many in the Hale School community and one that applies to the impressively developing career of Lucas Mata.
His dream when he finished school in Wembley Downs was to go to the Olympic Games and after six years enjoying the highs and lows of being a track sprinter, a call came from Australian bobsleigh pilot Heath Spence in May 2011 to see if he was interested in a change of direction.
“I did some testing (in bobsleigh) at the end of October, start of November 2011, then pretty much the next day after the testing they said ‘Yep, you’ve gotta get yourself to Park City’. So pretty much we did the testing on the Saturday and then Monday I was in Park City,” Mata explained.
“Then the day after on the Tuesday, I was in a race. I’d never seen a bobsled, never seen a track before in my life and I had to push off the top of the hill and jump in behind a rookie pilot. Since then I’ve pretty much been training for Sochi and the dream came true.”
Mata said there were plenty of people who considered him crazy at first and he said his parents thought ‘Lucas is going through one of his phases again’. But once he started training and competing, he knew bobsleigh was for him and the support naturally followed from family and the wider Perth community, both before and during the Sochi Games.
A Physical Education teacher away from sliding, Mata used his profession to help finance his sport and make up for a shortfall in official funding and sponsorship.
“Relief teaching has been amazing and there have been a couple of schools that have helped me out, Hale, especially at the Junior School, I did a term there,” he said.
“Even on the fan wall of the Australian Olympic Committee, a lot of the Hale junior school kids were sending congratulations to ‘Mr Mata’ and it was amazing to read.”
With Mata having made his Games debut in Sochi at the back of the sled as brakeman, he now has his sights on the front. He has subsequently moved to Canada to pursue qualification for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games and take on the even bigger challenge of piloting the sled.
“From sitting with your head in between your legs to sitting upright and driving the thing is a massive difference. But the pressure around a lot of the corners is so different and a lot more fun,” he said.
“Now i’m in control of this roller coaster and it’s awesome. The first time I went down I was more nervous than I was when I was being a brakeman but after a couple of trips down I thought ‘yep, this is definitely where I want to go with this sport’.”
From taming the PSA athletics world wearing the famous double-blue, to now taking on the world, wearing the perhaps even more famous green and gold - Lucas Mata’s Olympic Games journey has plenty left to run.
Lucas Mata (2001-05) interviewed by Will Davies (1998-04)