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Home Track Advantage: The Track (11/15/12)

Steven Holcomb driving Nighttrain in Lake Placid

Everyone knows that playing at home is an advantage. However, when it comes to bobsledding, it’s more than just the comfort of sleeping in your own bed, or getting a few more cheers from the crowd; it’s a true, measurable advantage. When Usain Bolt travels halfway around the world to compete on foreign soil, the 100 meter sprint didn’t get longer all of a sudden, 100 meters is 100 meters everywhere on the planet.  When the LA Kings travel to Madison Square Garden to play the New York Rangers, the rink size doesn’t change and the goals don’t get smaller. There really isn’t a physical advantage to the home team playing on their home ice. Same goes for football and basketball. Do the Baltimore Ravens have an advantage playing at home because the field is longer or the goalposts are wider?

Bobsledding is a whole different beast. There is an actual advantage for being on your home track. Every track in the world is different, in fact, out of all 15 bobsled tracks around the world, there are no two curves that are exactly the alike. The track in Lake Placid, New York has 20 curves and stretches 1455 meters from start to finish, while the track in Park City, Utah has only 15 curves and runs 1340 meters long; compare them to the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler, Canada or the infamous track in Altenberg, Germany and you’ll see, they are not similar in any way.

 

Lake Placid, NY

Park City, UT

Whistler, BC

Altenberg, GER

# of Curves

20

15

16

17

Length

4773 ft.

4396 ft.

4757 ft.

4636 ft.

Top Speed

80 mph

85 mph

93 mph

75 mph

 

So why is the home track advantage so important? Well, when it comes to driving a bobsled, it’s all about experience and repetition. The more you drive, the better you get, period. Since most drivers begin the season on their home track, they are able to get a couple dozen runs learning, and understanding the intricacies of their home ice before the competitive season starts. When the World Cup races finally come to town, the home team will have already had 20-30 training runs before the rest of the world has even had one.

Oh, if only it was so simple. You’re probably wondering, “Well, why doesn’t the home team win every race then?” Here’s the catch, each run you take down a track, you sort of “bank” it, or in gamer terms, you gain XP. The tracks don’t change, the curves will always go the same direction, and with every single run down you get a little more experience, and learn a little more about that track.  

After 12 years of driving, I’ve had close to 100 runs down each track, which is more than enough experience to be competitive on the World Cup circuit against any hometown hero. Add in the best push crew and incredible sled technology and you get an unstoppable force that the rest of the world hates to mess with.