THE START AND THE DRIVE
Finding Calm Within the Storm
Beginning the race with a great start is essential for success in bobsleigh. The start time is measured from 15-65m and the time difference from you to another is automatically doubled by the time you get to the bottom.
The start begins with a 'hit'. This is where the 2 or 4 team members synchronise the first movement of the sled to give the sled maximum velocity from the first impulse. In the 4-man the driver will load first after 30-35 metres, this is then followed by each of the side handle pushers and followed by the brakeman on the back which can be up to 50-55m. This is heavily choreographed with each team member following each other in simultaneously and loading into very specific positions in a tight sled. This all has to be done whilst pushing the sled at maximum velocity and loading before the start grooves end to prevent the sled from skidding or hitting before the first corner.
For the duration of the run the pushers remain as still as possible to prevent their body weight from moving and disrupting the sled as well as optimising aerodynamics. The brakeman is at the rear of the sled in both sleds and will pull the brakes only once the run has concluded.
Pushers are usually recruited into bobsleigh from other sports. Good transferable sports are Athletics, Rugby and Weight lifting. Any sport that requires tremendous amounts of power and speed are usually a great fit for bobsleigh as long as they can handle the weight requirements.
Driving a bobsleigh is extremely challenging and takes many years to master. This is largely due to the limited time available for training each year. The winter season runs from October to March and outside of those months there's no possible way to practice driving a bobsleigh. During the winter months you can only complete 2/3 runs down a track a day which equates to around 150/200 runs a season. That's around 3 hours of practice total every year! Pilots try to make the most of this time by walking the track before each session to study their lines and perform countless visualisations of the run before training.
To drive the sled the pilot can change the direction of the front 2 runners by pulling left and right on the D-rings inside the sled. This sounds quite easy but it's not quite as simple as steering left in a left hand corner and right in a right hand corner. Every corner in the world is different with different speeds, lengths and characteristics which require the pilot to steer, release and control the sled at specific points to have the high point in the right place so they exit the corner with the most speed and approach the next corner optimally. Add in the vibration of the track and violent transitions and G-force then it becomes a real challenge.
There are 3 race circuits to compete on which are compromised of the lower tier (North American Cup and Europa Cup) and the World Cup. These have their own leagues where drivers accumulate points over 8 races with more points being available on the World Cup. Points aren't only important for the overall league but they also enables the pilot to have an early start draw in a race which means the track is in better condition and is faster. Races can have over 30 sleds in them which can quickly degrade the ice and leave the sleds at the back of the pack with a significant disadvantage.
The start draw is decided by your points. The top 10 are put into a draw and have a start of 4th to 13th. Pilots with the least amount of points are put into a draw and have the opportunity to be 1st to 3rd. The remainder are put in their ranking order. After the first run only the top 20 qualify for a second run and the start order is reversed with whoever is 20th after the first run to the leader of the race.
Most races are held over 2 runs except the World Championships and the Olympic Games which are held at the end of the season. The Olympic Games are held once every 4 years with the next being in Milan/ Cortina in 2026. The World Champs are held every year between the Olympics.