Winter Olympics, Sochi 2014

Bobsleigh Preview

Venue

Sanki Sliding Centre

Schedule

DATETIME (GMT)EVENT
16th February16:15-17:20Two-man Run 1
17:50-18:55Two-man Run 2
17th February14:30-15:35Two-man Run 3
16:05-16:55Two-man Run 4 (MEDALS)
18th February15:15-16:00Women’s Run 1
16:23-17:08Women’s Run 2
19th February16:15-17:00Women’s Run 3
17:23-18:28Women’s Run 4 (MEDALS)
22nd February16:30-17:35Four-man Run 1
18:00-19:05Four-man Run 2
23rd February09:30-10:35Four-man Run 3
11:00-11:45Four-man Run 4 (MEDALS)

Jamaica has actually qualified for the Bobsleigh a couple of times and, in 2014, they’re back again.

The Sport

Bobsleigh has been a part of the Winter Olympics since 1924. Initially, there was only a 4-man event, but a 2-man event was introduced four years later. Women have competed since 2002, though only in the 2-person event.

The crew consists of a pilot and a brake-man, along with two pushers in 4-man events. The modern-day ‘sleigh’ consists of light metals, steel runners and a composite body. Competition sleighs must be less than 3.80m long (4-man) or 2.70m (2-man).

Each run involves riding in a sleigh down a concrete track covered in ice up to speeds in excess of 90mph, the aim being to set the fastest total time across four runs. The tracks are approximately 1300m in length (although the new Sochi track is a monster at 1814m) and must include at least 15 turns. The run starts with a 50m section where the riders push-start the sleigh up to speed – the quality of the start can have a strong bearing on the speed of the rest of the run. (You’ll notice a lot of ex-sprinters involved.) The body weight, aerodynamics and condition of the runners, the condition of the ice and the skill of the pilot are all contributing factors. Run times are recorded in hundredths of seconds, so even minor errors can be pivotal.

It’s a fast, exciting sport, which is always hugely popular and hugely competitive. 42 (!) athletes have died in the bobsleigh event since its inception in 1924, so even though it’s a lot safer now, it’s not one for the faint-hearted.

The Favourites

Men’s 4-person: USA, Germany, Russia

The USA are reigning Olympic champions under the masterful piloting skills of Steven Holcomb and come to Sochi as favourites to retain their crown. The Germans have historically been top performers in this event, but their recent form in World Cup events has been inconsistent. Expect Russia, Latvia, Canada and Switzerland to be in the running in what could be a very competitive fight for medals.

The USA are reigning Olympic champions and come to Sochi as favourites to retain their crown.

Men’s 2-person: USA, Switzerland, Germany

The Americans haven’t won the two-man bobsled since 1936, but Steven Holcomb is being widely tipped to pilot his sled to gold in Sochi after securing the World Cup for a second time last month. He won five out of the eight races through the winter. He was also the man who piloted the USA to their 4-man triumph in Vancouver 2010.  Swiss pilot Beat Hefti finished the season in second and, naturally, becomes the second favourite. The Germans have historically been the best in this event, with 19 medals, and Maximilian Arndt will definitely have a say in the proceedings.

Women’s 2-person: Canada, USA, Germany

Reigning champions Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse come in as hot favourites to top the podium in Sochi. The USA have never failed to gain a medal in this event since its introduction in 2002, so there is a lot of pedigree there too. The Alpine countries of Switzerland, Austria and Germany have all been competitive throughout the Winter and could pose a threat.

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British Hopes

Team GB haven’t won a Bobsleigh medal for 16 years, but in Sochi, there is a real belief that the men’s 4-man team could pull something out of the bag. Lead pilot (and Royal Marines Commando) John Jackson, 36, finished fifth at his last event on the Sochi track and in the World Championships, just 0.07s off a medal, before rupturing his Achilles. He defied medics with a faster recovery than estimated, leading his team to a silver medal at Lake Placid before Christmas – the first British World Cup medal for 16 years. Boosted by the fact that Team GB have managed to secure two teams in the 4-man competition, which was above expectations, there is a strong sense that this could be the year. The 2-man team and women’s teams will need miracles if they’re to challenge for medals, though.

There is a real belief that the men’s 4-man team could pull something out of the bag.

Honourable Mention: Jamaican Bobsleigh Team

“We are the team no-one can believe, Jamaica’s got a bobsled team.” Everyone loves Cool Runnings, right? The film takes a light-hearted (and somewhat romanticised) look at the country’s first outing at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, 1988. Since then, Jamaica has actually qualified for the Bobsleigh a couple of times and, in 2014, they’re back again. With very little support from the Jamaican government, it was a plea from the team via the internet which secured them the funding to get to Sochi, after hitting a high enough ranking in mid-January. They have qualified for the 2-man event with the team consisting of Winston Watts, 46 (!) and Marvin Dixon. Swapping the sandy beaches of the Caribbean for the icy Dagestan tundras has proved problematic though, having lost their luggage en route and missing their first practice on the track as a result. They probably won’t challenge the top of the table, but they will have the backing of the fans and the foundations for another great underdog story. Hopefully, their sleigh won’t end up on its side this time…

Jack Starbuck

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Images courtesy of familymwr and remysharp on flickr

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