'14 Need To Knows: Bobsled

By Paul D. Bowker | April 04, 2013, 5 p.m. (ET)

Bobsled in Park City
Team Night Train at the World Cup event in Park City, Utah, in November 2012.

 
(Front-back): Steven Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Langton and
Curt Tomasevicz celebrate after the four-man bobsled final heat
of the 2013 World Championships at Olympia Bob Run on
Feb. 3, 2013 in St Moritz, Switzerland.

ALL ABOARD THE NIGHT TRAIN
Steven Holcomb and the USA-1 Night Train crew made U.S. history at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games when they won gold in the four-man competition, marking the first time Team USA won a gold medal in the event since 1948. USA-1 is aiming for the same result in Sochi. Steve Mesler, who is retired, is the only member of the 2010 four-man team not making a run for Sochi. (Steve Langton is now on the team.) The crew of Holcomb, Langton, Justin Olsen and Curt Tomasevicz settled for bronze at the 2013 World Championships, but they recorded a record-breaking final run with a time of 1:04.65 on a start time of 4.98 seconds. It is that kind of speed they’re hoping to see in 2014. “My team did an outstanding job,” Holcomb said, “and we’re feeling confident heading to the Olympic track.” Holcomb is a two-time Olympian who also was an alternate for the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games. His incredible ascension to the Olympic gold medal in 2010 included an eye surgical procedure in 2008 that improved his degenerative eyesight from 20-500 to 20-20. He wrote a book about it titled, “But Now I See: My Journey from Blindness to Olympic Gold.”

SEEKING ANOTHER MEDAL
A former softball player at George Washington University, 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers will seek to be the first American woman to win two Olympic medals in bobsled. In 2010, Meyers was the brakeman for driver Erin Pac; this time, Meyers is the one in the driver’s seat. She combined with Katie Eberling to earn a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships. In February, she teamed up with Aja Evans to win silver on the Sochi Olympic track in a World Cup event. Their start time of 5.19 seconds in the KOA sled set a record. “The push is huge on this track,” Eberling said.

LOLO JONES SEEKS WINTER GAMES MEDAL
Lolo Jones, a hurdler on the past two U.S. Olympic Teams in the summer Games, turned to bobsledding this year following her fourth-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles at the London 2012 Olympic Games. She took to the icy track impressively. In the 2012-13, her first season as a bobsledder, Jones won gold in the team event at the FIBT World Championships, combining with 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers. She also took bronze in a team event at the Igls World Cup and silver with Jazmine Fenlator at the Lake Placid World Cup. In addition to seeking a spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, she still plans on reaching the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games as a hurdler.

WORLD CLASS ATHLETE PROGRAM
USA Bobsled includes seven athletes and coaches who are soldiers in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program. The strong military presence in USA Bobsled has included 2002 Olympic gold medalist Jill Bakken, who was a member of the Utah National Guard when she and Vonetta Flowers won the first women’s bobsled Olympic competition. Two-time Olympian Steven Holcomb served in the Utah National Guard for seven years. Current members of the World Class Athlete Program include Nick Cunningham, Chris Fogt, Mike Kohn, Tuffy Latour, Justin Olsen, Dallas Robinson and Shauna Rohbock. After competing at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Fogt served in Iraq for one year and then returned to competition.

DATES TO REMEMBER
The bobsled competition will begin Feb. 16, 2014, when two days of the two-man event will be held. That will be followed by two days of the women’s bobsled, Feb. 18-19. The four-man bobsled will be held Feb. 22-23, which are the last two days of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Each bobsled competition consists of four runs over two days. The lowest combined times for all four runs will decide the medal winners.

 
Pilot Steven Holcomb (far right) celebrates winning the bronze medal with
his
teammates Steve Langton (far left), Justin Olsen (second from left) and
Curt Tomasevicz after the final run of the men's four-man bobsled world
championship on Feb. 27, 2011 in Koenigssee, Germany.

THE MEDALS
In all, nine sets of medals will be handed out over the three disciplines, six for men and three for women. The United States grabbed two medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games: Gold in the four-man (Steven Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler, Curtis Tomasevicz) and bronze in the women’s competition (Erin Pac, Elana Meyers). The United States has not won gold in the two-man since 1936.

USA SLOTS
The United States already has one slot locked up, but it will be able to qualify up to three sleds for each gender. The slots are decided by international standings in the 2013-14 season. The qualification period ends Jan. 19, 2014. In both two-man and four-man, 30 crews will qualify. In women, 20 crews will qualify.

SLIDING AMERICAN WOMEN
Since the women’s bobsled was introduced into the Olympic program at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the United States has medaled in every Winter Games. Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won gold in Salt Lake with a two-run time of 1:37.76. Team USA followed that up with silver at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games and bronze at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Bakken married another bobsledder, gave birth to a son and wound up living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Flowers, the mother of two and the first African-American to medal in an Olympic Winter Games, moved to Florida and attended the Vancouver Winter Games as a spectator, sitting with 1968 figure skating gold medalist Peggy Fleming, 1980 men’s ice hockey gold medalist Mike Eruzione and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

THE VENUE
The Sanki Sliding Centre will be host to not only the bobsledding competition, but also skeleton and luge. The Sliding Centre is located at the Alpika Service Mountain Ski Resort and is the first extensive sliding center to be built in Russia. State-of-the-art technology will allow for controlled temperatures along the entire course. It received favorable responses from athletes during international test events. The course finishes at Rzhanaya Polyana with a seating area for 9,000 spectators. Team USA tested the track back in February. Said third-year driver Nick Cunningham: “It is a gorgeous facility. The track is easy to get down and lacks a lot of speed, but there are some sections of the track that can win or lose a race. This track has some uphill sections and some curves that start uphill and end going downhill. It is very unique, and very fun to drive.”

G-FORCE TIMES FIVE
The astronauts of NASA may know the physical effects of a bobsledder. The gravitational force on an athlete in some bobsled courses can exceed five Gs. One “G” is equal to the force of gravity and it is the gravitational force that holds the sleds on the high walls of a banked turn. By comparison, a fighter pilot may hit eight or nine Gs. NASA has a simulator that can produce a whopping 20 Gs.

Lolo Jones bobsleds 
Lolo Jones is seeking a spot on the 2014 Olympic bobsled team
after competing in the last two summer Games as a
hurdler.

BMW HITS THE ICE
New technology surfaces every year to make the sleds faster. Generally speaking, a sled consists of a hull, a frame, front and rear axles, and two sets of runners. Most of the hulls are made of carbon fiber. Retractable side push handles are used by the athletes to push the sled at the start. Brakes are applied by pulling a lever, which, in turn, lowers metal teeth into the ice. This year BMW of North America created a two-man bobsled which made its debut in Igls, Austria, in January.

THE EQUIPMENT
Considering the fact that some have compared bobsledding to jumping into a metal garbage can and careening down a bumpy course of solid ice, safety equipment is of vital importance to bobsled athletes. The equipment includes a helmet, which protects athletes against head injuries. Some athletes use helmets with visors; others use goggles to protect their eyes. The shoes for a bobsled athlete include spikes on the bottom of the shoes so that they can dig into the ice for traction during the start of their runs.

COOL RUNNINGS
Certainly, the best known Hollywood version of bobsledding arrived in 1993 with the movie, “Cool Runnings,” starring John Candy as an ousted coach attempting to lead the first Jamaican bobsled team to the Olympic Winter Games. The movie was based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team making its debut at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games.
 
HISTORY LESSON
Bobsledding has been around since late in the 19th century, when a toboggan was outfitted with runners and a steering mechanism in Switzerland. The first sleds were made of wood, which would hardly resemble the sleek sleds that are manufactured today. The four-man event made its Olympic debut in 1924, and the two-man was added in 1932. Women were first included in the Winter Games in bobsled in 2002.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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