“Bobsleigh, skeleton and luge.
Pretty similar right?”
– Well, yes and no. Nerves of steel – and doubtless a cast-iron stomach – are required as competitors hurtle down a mile-long track at around 100 kilometres (70 miles) an hour.
They also need great strength to hold on as well as steer themselves safely to the bottom.
Luge and skeleton competitors both lie on a rectangular sled – supine (that is, feet first) for luge and headfirst for skeleton whereas bobsleigh competitors are able to climb inside their aerodynamic ‘vehicle’.
Skeleton involves one racer but luge can be one or two, whereas bobsleigh involves teams of two or four, with both variants having a pilot and a brakeman. After running down the top section to get some momentum the bobbers leap aboard as one might a passing motorcycle sidecar.
“So, basically, what do you do? Or do you just hang on tight?”
– A bobsleigh driver manipulates ropes connected to polished steel runners as other crew shift their weight to aid steering.
The added thrill for skeleton, aside from the head first position adopted, is the lack of any steering mechanism.
You just have to move your feet, but as that creates drag the best riders dispense with that where they can.
“How fast is fast?”
– Bobs can hit the 125 km/h (90 mph) mark while skeleton and luge can manage around 110 km/h. When it comes to medals time the margins are infinite, hence that need to cut drag. An extra one-hundredth of a second after two heats can mean golden dreams turn to dust.
“What are the sports’ origins?”
– Swiss. Winter sports fans have been converging on St Moritz, home to the Cresta Run, for around 150 years to indulge their passion and the more adventurous soon started producing variants of delivery boy sleighs. Collisions with pedestrians meant a need to devise steering mechanisms.
Hotelier Caspar Badrutt saw a money-earner and produced the first purpose-built track around 1870. The track, which helped to make Badrutt’s fortune, survives and has been used in two Olympic tournaments.
“Who’s good at it these days?”
– Essentially, German speakers – they include current luge champion Armin Zoeggeler, even though he’s Italian. His 2002 triumph put an end to a decade of domination by German ‘speeding sausage’ Georg Hackl.
Skeleton’s more a New World thing, Canadian Duff Gibson succeeding Jim Shea of the USA in 2006 while fellow American Tristan Gale won in 2002. British women are emerging, with Shelley Rudman bagging silver four years ago.