The Beijing Winter Olympic Games 2022 begin on the 4th February 2022, and the RAF are proud to support their talented personnel attending the games as athletes or coaches.
The largest ever contingent of military personnel are going to an Olympic Games this year, proving the future is not only bright, but also light blue. Every athlete on this road to Beijing begin as pure novices; but their RAF roles lend transferable skills that build upon their sporting success.
"From an Air Force perspective, when we go on our various promotional management courses, we get to develop our personal skills set. That helps us put messages across from a coaching stance to a high standard. So, we end up having people that become experienced in the sport and in leading and management, its perfect...We are so well placed for the future. I just hope that seeing our personnel in Beijing inspires others to take up the sport. If they do, we can help them achieve in it as far as they want to go."
Squadron Leader Heather Ratnage-Black
However, the athletes will need time away from their military roles, to meet the demands of the Olympics. The RAF Elite Athlete Scheme allows Personnel identified by a professional body to participate at the highest level in their sport, as an athlete, coach, official or judge. The Scheme allows leave of absence for training or competition while in the Service, with access to kit, equipment, training facilities, and events. The RAF Central Fund and RAF Sports Federation provide charitable funding and support to the RAF Sport associations and Service personnel, at each and every level, from beginners to those who are pursuing their sport at the highest level.
Shanwayne Stephens – Jamaican Bobsleigh
Lance Corporal Shanwayne Stephens has qualified as Pilot of the Jamaican Bobsleigh team and will compete in the four-man and two-man races.
Born in Jamaica but based in Peterborough, Shanwayne joined the RAF in 2011 as an RAF Regiment Gunner. He was posted to RAF Northolt on the King's Colour Squadron, where his days varied from training for combat situations, to being on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace during ceremonial duties or engaging with the public at air shows. Shanwayne has seen career highlights including a continuity drill display before her Majesty the Queen at the Royal Albert hall, for the Festival of Remembrance.
"The hours of rehearsals that go into doing a flawless performance all paid off at the end of the performance after present arms facing the royal box and seeing the smile and applause of her Majesty."
Lance Corporal Shanwayne Stephens
Meanwhile, Shanwayne trained in Bobsleigh, going on to represent the RAF at the Inter Service Championship and joining the Jamaican Bobsleigh team in 2018. The RAF Elite Athlete Scheme has supported Shanwayne to maintain a military career whilst training.
"Without my career in the RAF I would never have been able to start my Bobsleigh journey and am thankful for the support received which allows me to travel the world and compete in international competitions!"
Lance Corporal Shanwayne Stephens
Read more about Shanwayne’s role in the RAF here. However, for now, Shanwayne hopes to carry the ‘Cool Runnings’ legacy at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games. You can follow his journey on:
- Instagram - @jambobshan and @teamssjb
- Twitter - @jambobshan
The full Bobsleigh schedule and results are available from the Official Olympic website.
You can also see behind the scenes action – from training, travelling and recovery to rest days and birthday shenanigans – with Bob Team Shan video vlogs.
Back in 2020, Shanwayne spoke to her Majesty the Queen via a Zoom video call, along with other personnel from the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. They discussed how the British Armed Forces were working during the COVID-19 Pandemic, while Shanwayne described his life as a member on the King's Colour Squadron.
Shanwayne also talked about his role as the pilot of the Jamaican Bobsleigh team; to which the Queen replied: "Gosh, sounds a very dangerous job!" and described how he pushed a Mini Cooper around the streets of his hometown, to practise when gyms were closed.
Mark Silva – Bobsleigh Coach
Chief Technician Mark Silva will support Shanwayne and his teammates at the Beijing 2022 Games.
Mark joined the RAF in 1998 as an Aircraft airframe Engineer, after completing his BTEC in Aeronautical Engineering. His career has included deployments to Ali Al Salem for the second Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Akrotiri; as well as engineering roles with 18 Squadron, Regimental Support Squadron, and 71 (IR) Squadron.
In 2006, Mark earned a civilian qualification in Recruitment Practise to teach future engineers and mechanics at the tri-service School of Non-Destructive Testing. That same year he delved into ice sports, having always loved rugby but being plagued by knee trouble to continue it professionally.
"I started with RAF luge as a novice in 2006, I went to skeleton and ended up in Bobsleigh. I pushed, then drove and after a year and a half of that, I took over the role of coach, driver and techie from about 2012 to 2017. I only deliver the management skills that the RAF has taught me, it is no different to managing a shift – I have managed shifts of 60 personnel in Afghanistan."
Chief Technician Mark Silva
Mark became the RAF coach for Bobsleigh, boosting team ethos and competitiveness of the athletes after a run of bad luck and poor performance. He soon earned three Interservice titles with the male team and six with the women’s team. Then in 2011, Mark organised for the team to compete at the British Championships in Winterberg, investing time and money into the trip. Tragedy stuck when his grandmother passed away before the competition; but heartfelt family discussions allowed Mark to attend Winterberg – in total the team earned eight British Championship medals.
In his spare time, Mark helped the Jamaica Bobsledders and supported them at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeonchang. Now, Mark will coach Shanwayne and his teammates at the Beijing 2022 games.
"The RAF personnel involved are grafters, and we will be grafting until the final run of the Beijing Games. There is not, if any employer who would give the opportunity to work through to the elite level…if Shanwayne wasn’t in the military would he be at the Olympics? I very much doubt it. If I wasn’t, would I be in Bobsleigh? Absolutely no and that’s a fact."
Chief Technician Mark Silva
Stu Benson – Bobsleigh Coach
Chief Technician Stu Benson is also a Bobsleigh Coach, who will be supporting the Great Britain Bobsleigh team; Brad Hall, Taylor Lay (Royal Marines), and Nick Gleeson (Army). Stu has experience competing himself during the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, where he achieved a bronze medal (after the Russian teams were disqualified for doping a year later).
Stu has recently been promoted 1 School Technical Training at RAF Cosford, but for now the upcoming Olympics will demand his time away from this usual role; something Stu’s colleagues are understanding and immensely proud of.
"In my mind the reason the RAF produces good sledders and ice sports people is because the RAF is a good organisation that understands the value of sport and the impact on its personnel…I started Bobsleigh in 2011, and have managed to get to this peak because of a mixture of things, but in the main due to the total support by the RAF, and that continues until this day."
Chief Technician Stu Benson
Gavin Arnold – Luge Coach
Flight Lieutenant Gavin Arnold is the CEO of Great Britain Luge and will attend the games to support Athlete Rupert Staudinger.
He began in 2011, at a novice camp and found himself enjoying Luge instantly. He went on to compete with the RAF team until Great Britain picked him up. With the support of the RAF Elite Athlete Scheme, Gavin has been able to continue his sporting and flying careers.
"It’s a fabulous opportunity for us Service people to be involved at such a high level. I was never lucky enough to make it at this level, but thanks to the RAF I am at that level the Service has not only given me the right tools for the jobs but has been phenomenal in supporting me all the way."
Flight Lieutenant Gavin Arnold
The RAF wish our athletes and coaches good luck!
Listen to more about RAF Sports and our high performing athletes on Episode 18 of InsideAIR.