Fast and Furious
Thundering down a track at close to 150kph is not an activity for the faint of heart: bobsleigh is the fastest, and also one of the most thrilling, of winter activities.
It’s been a part of the Olympic Winter Games since the event’s inception at Chamonix 1924 (with the exception of 1960; there was no track in Squaw Valley), and remains one of the most popular and iconic disciplines.
Welcome to a new home
It’s not something you can do anywhere: worldwide, there have until recently been just 16 tracks upon which bobsleigh can be practised. That changed in 2016 when the 17th was opened at the Olympic Sliding Centre in PyeongChang. It has been constructed to the highest standards, costing around $110 million, and is able to accommodate 7,000 fans.
Olympic sliding in this glamorous new home begins on 18 February and the format is relatively simple. Men compete in two-man and four-man events (although technically the four-man event is open to either gender), women in the two-woman, which was introduced in 2002. All of these races calculate a winner by taking an aggregate timing from four runs down the track. The final two heats are on 19 February (two-man), 21 February (two-woman) and 25 February (four-man).
— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) February 2, 2017
Crews consist of a pilot and a brakeman – plus two pushers in the four-man. Athletes possess a combination of skills, as well as the requisite fearlessness. Speed and strength are highly valued in order to shove the sled for the first 50 metres: as a result, several former professional sprinters have transferred their power from the track to the ice.
Once moving, it’s down to the skill of the pilot, who will need subtlety and timing to negotiate the fastest line possible down the 1,376.38m track. Times are split to the hundredth of a second.
Germany and Switzerland have historically dominated the event. The Swiss popularised bobsleigh thanks to the first track at St Moritz, while the Germans – who have the most tracks of any country, with four – have enjoyed most of their success since the 1990s.