Sochi 2014: Military saved GB Bobsleigh's Deen from life of crime

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter in Sochi
Lamin Deen
British Bobsleigh pilot Lamin Deen will lead both the GBR 1 two-man and GBR 2 four-man teams at the Sochi Winter Olympics

Lamin Deen's life story could be a movie script.

From 'getting up to no good' in the rough parts of Manchester and being petrol-bombed in Northern Ireland, to helping protect the Queen and qualifying for the Winter Olympics.

It is an incredible tale, which is perhaps only lacking a Hollywood ending.

On Sunday the 32-year-old made his Team GB Olympic bow in Sochi, piloting the two-man bobsleigh team.

It essentially acts as a warm-up for the four-man competition, which begins on 22 February.

"There were hard times and I could have gone down the wrong road," said Deen, who has several childhood friends who have spent significant time in jail.

"Fortunately I joined the military and they moulded me and turned me into the person I am today."

Lamin Deen
Lamin Deen working for the Grenadier Guards and during active service on tour with the military.

Deen's family herald from Sierra Leone, but the athlete himself was born in London and moved to Manchester's then notorious Moss Side area at the age of nine.

He recalls earning a little pocket money by offering to 'protect' the cars of Manchester City fans who parked in his neighbourhood - a short distance from the club's previous Maine Road home.

However, this was not an entirely altruistic act. "Lets just say there was a penalty if they didn't pay," he says.

Behind the scenes with GB Bobsleigh pilot Deen

"That part of Manchester in the late 1990s wasn't the place to be.

"There was a lot of gang culture and I got into a bit of bother, but unlike some of my friends who didn't choose the right route I got out at a crucial time."

Aged 15 years and 9 months, Deen quit Stockport College a month into his first term and joined the military.

"It was by far harder than anything I had done in my life," he said. "It was a mill-grinder, tough, no, really tough, but I came out of the other end of it and was really proud of myself."

Tours of Bosnia and Kosovo followed, but time in Northern Ireland towards the end of the large-scale sectarian conflict proved to be character-building.

"One minute I was in the streets of Manchester, the next I was in Belfast and Dungannon [Ulster], behind the picket lines with a shield and getting petrol bombs thrown at you.

"It became normality to me and I just took everything that life threw at me - literally."

Deen avoided a tour of Afghanistan after being talent-spotted at a military sports event where he was competing in the 200m sprint.

Quick athletes often find a home in bobsleigh teams around around the world and this was to be the case for Deen who was was fast-tracked into the British set-up in 2007.

After his experiences during active service you would imagine life as a professional bobsleigher would have been light relief - not so according to Deen.

"What makes bobsleigh so difficult is the unpredictability," he tells BBC Sport.

"In the military there are commands and procedures but when you're out on the ice anything can happen."

His day-to-day role with the Grenadier Guardsexternal-link has seen him involved in 'Trooping the Colour' on numerous occasions, but combining this with training was difficult and he missed out on selection for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"I was watching it on my sofa in Manchester and that's where I made the decision I had to go to the next Olympics," said Deen.

"I didn't want to go as a brakeman though. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and try out as a pilot."

He was given an extended leave of absence to focus on reaching Sochi and after a difficult campaign Deen secured his place in the Team GB squad for at the last qualification event.

He was given lead pilot John Jackson's usual crew and achieved a career-best World Cup finish of 11th in Igls, Austria last month, which landed Great Britain a second four-man sled for the Olympics and also unlocked a place in the two-man competition.

"It was certainly a race I will never forget," he recalls.

"I didn't know the result when I crossed the line, but I saw my team-mates running down the track, there were a few tears, and then I knew we'd done enough and that felt great."

Preparations have been hampered though by a career-threatening injury to Craig Pickering, who has been replaced in the two-man team by John Baines.

"My heart is broken for Craig," Deen admitted.

"I have worked closely in the summer with John though and I'm quite confident that he can put in a great performance."

Deen is one of only a handful of black athletes to compete for Team GB at a Winter Olympics and he hopes that by taking part in the Games he can help boost participation.

How hard is it to climb into a bobsleigh?

"I don't know why there have been so few, perhaps black people don't like the cold," he jokes.

"I've been back to my old school and to community centres over the last few months, the response is wonderful.

"We've started to see a huge influx of black athletes coming into the sport and hopefully the Olympics will push forward with that drive.

Deen is unsure what his long-term future holds and could return to the military full-time once the Games are over.

All the more reason he says to enjoy this experience to the full.