Within the grand theatre of sport, few have borne more slings and arrows than Brendan Green.
Physically, his vertebrae have betrayed him on several occasions, repaying great efforts with career-threatening slipped discs and agonizing back pain.
Emotionally, Green lost three large figures in his life in 2017: Jordan Crawford, brother of his fiancee Rosanna Crawford; Richard Boruta, the rock of the Canmore biathlon scene, and Pat Bobinski, his first biathlon coach.
“There were lots of sad events,” Green said. “Pat was my first coach up north and a good family friend. He was responsible for bringing biathlon to the north, and I started working with him when I was nine. We spent tons of time together.”
The common bond is they all believed in Green. They saw his professionalism and drive, believing he could reach the highest levels in the sport – especially Pat.
“Pat was one of the people that really believed in me. He saw my potential at a young age. When I was 14, he made me a promise: if I made the Olympics, he would be there. When I made my Olympic debut in Vancouver, he was there.”
Green has repaid those who helped him with one of the greatest careers in Canadian biathlon history. This will be his third Olympics, complementing a slew of strong performances.
This season has been another test for the 31-year-old. Uncharacteristically, he’s struggled in the range, and lost a portion of last season to what he believes was fatigue.
“At the end of the day, it’s really hard to know with that sort of thing. It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong. Things were going well, but fatigue built up. Once that happens, it’s a fine line. Once the season started, it was a brutal sensation. That feeling never went away,” Green said.
But history has shown whenever his opponents are ready to count him out, Green comes back. He has a 2016 world championship relay bronze medal to show for that, and had a great 2014 Winter Olympics after struggling that season, too. With 182 world cup starts to his credit, he has some experience to draw upon.
“(Sochi) was a really strong Olympics for our team. We were underdogs then as well. We turned a lot of heads, for sure, and experienced a lot of ups and downs. This Olympics will be no different,” Green said. “With Biathlon Canada’s big Own the Podium funding cut, we want to show Canada we can be a strong sport.”
When things get tough, he has Crawford for support, and a tight-knit network around him. He often turns to baking sourdough, or perfecting gourmet cups of coffee to take his mind off the sport.
Green’s parents, both teachers in the Northwest Territories, are his biggest fans, even if they weren’t naturally drawn to the sport.
“My mom was a post Second World War child. Sport, for her, was unheard of. Her life was about surviving and making a living. My dad was a freestyle wrestler – a Canadian champion. He went to world championships, so he knew sport,” Green said.
Following in his older brother Paul’s footsteps, Green began to ski at the age of six in Hay River, NWT before moving to Canmore, where he quickly became one of the best in the country. On the world cup, he’s finished as high as fifth, and is always solid in relays.
“I’m not one of the vocal guys on the team. I try and lead by example. I’ve been with the team when we’ve had money, and when we’ve had no money, so in some ways I’ve been here before,” he said. “There are no secrets. It’s about getting the work done, putting your head down and grinding it out.”
Hard work is the only constant. But he admits politics do anger him. As a member of the men’s relay team in Sochi, he helped power the team to a seventh-place finish. The sixth-place team, the Russians, included athletes tied to the doping scandal.
“In Sochi, Own the Podium was looking for top-six results. Our men’s relay was seventh. Russia won. That had a direct impact on our funding,” Green said.
Yet the slings and arrows have not stopped Green.
“I am getting older. My career is coming to an end, no doubt. Whether this is the last year, I’m not sure. Both Rosanna and I will re-evaluate and see what opportunities are present,” Green said. “This year, I’ll be thinking of Jordan and Pat and Richard, and saying goodbye to them every time I race.”