Octogenarian bobsleigher is awarded OBE

Darlington and Stockton Times: OBE: Bruce Ropner OBE: Bruce Ropner

AN 80-year-old man who has ridden bobsleighs for the last 54 years has been awarded an OBE after establishing a British team which became the world’s best at the Youth Winter Olympics.

Bruce Ropner, the great grandson of Teesside shipbuilder Sir Robert Ropner, said he went as white as the courses he has raced down after learning his services to the sport and youth training had been recognised in the Queen’s New Year Honours.

He said: “It was a tremendous surprise to me - my wife, Willow, thought I looked like a ghost.”

Mr Ropner, the 1962 British two-man bobsleigh champion who still toboggans in the Alps, has helped oversee the sport changing from an amateur pastime in Britain to one in which athletes train for up to nine months a year.

Nicola Minichiello, the first British female bobsleigh driver to win a World Championship, said her achievements would have been impossible without the support of Mr Ropner, who helped her through some of her toughest times as an athlete.

The former chairman of the British Bobsleigh Association has also recruited and train young athletes at Camp Hill, the 150-acre team building centre owned by his son, Robert, near Bedale, in North Yorkshire.

After a party of Durham High School pupils tested themselves on the 50m push-start track at Camp Hill, Mr Ropner spotted the potential of Mica McNeil, who landed a silver medal at the inaugural Youth Winter Olympics in 2012.

When the rules barring competitors aged under 18 changed, the association found it did not have the funds to run a scheme to identify potential sliding stars for the sport.

Mr Ropner persuaded two firms to underwrite a project to open the sport to a wider group of people, and went on to help establish the national Futures programme.

Some 250 schools have since been invited to join the programme, which allows young people the opportunity to see if they can reach the power, precision and courage required by olympic athlete to drive bobsleighs at speeds of nearly 100mph.

Mr Ropner said: “I have been trying my best to get youths, who may otherwise be walking around streets, into what is an unusual sport that does not get the publicity other sports such as snowboarding do.

“It takes up quite a bit of time. My wife will tell I am saying something about it every single day.”

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