Olympic Bobsled 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

Olympic Bobsled 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    The high-speed bobsled event begins its run at the Winter Olympics on Feb. 16 and finishes on Feb. 23.

    Although the sport receives little attention most of the time in the United States, it is put in the spotlight every four years at the Olympics.

    Germany has been the dominant country in recent Olympic bobsled competition, but an American team won the gold medal in the four-man bobsled event at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

    American women have won a medal in each of the three Olympics that featured the women’s bobsled event.






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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Olympic bobsled competition, officially known as bobsleigh, consists of three events: men's four-man, men's two-man and women's bobsled, which is a two-person competition.

    Participants in each discipline complete four runs over two days, with the lowest cumulative time from the four runs determining the order of finish and medal awards.

    Bobsledders reached speeds of nearly 95 miles per hour at the Vancouver Games four years ago, but the track for this Olympics is expected to be slower.  

    The venue for the 2014 bobsledding event is the Sliding Center Sanki, located in Rzhanaya Polyana, Russia, which is about 37 miles from Sochi. The course is 1,500 meters long, not including the 314-meter braking area at the end of a run. According to a CBC story, maximum speed is 135 kilometers per hour, which is about 84 miles per hour.

    Bobsled competition will begin Feb. 16 with heats in the two man-event. Bobsledding concludes Feb. 23 with the final heats of the four-man event.

    The United States will have three teams competing in the women's and two-man bobsled competitions and two in the four-man event. The U.S. is considered a gold-medal contender in all three.





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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Bobsledding first became an Olympic event in the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France. Only four-man bobsled competition was held in 1924, and it was changed to a five-man event in the 1928 Winter Games before reverting back to a four-man competition in 1932.

    Two-man bobsled competition was added to the Olympics at the 1932 Winter Games at Lake Placid, N.Y., and women's bobsledding became an Olympic sport in 2002 at Salt Lake City, Utah.

    No bobsledding competition was held at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, N.Y., but it has been an Olympic event in every Winter Games since.

    Americans captured the gold medal in the three disciplines the first year each was an Olympic event, and American women have medaled each of the three years the Olympics featured women's bobsledding.

    Germans have dominated men's bobsledding, winning the gold medal at the last three Olympics in the two-man event and taking first place in four of the past five Olympics in the four-man category. A team from Germany (including East Germany and West Germany when the country was divided) has won 15 gold medals in the 38 men's Olympic bobsled competitions held. Switzerland is next with nine gold medals in men's events.

    Germany's Andre Lange has won four Olympic bobsled gold medals, the most in history. He won his second straight two-man gold medal in 2010 but finished second in the four-man competition that year before retiring.

    An American four-man team led by pilot Steven Holcomb finished first in the 2010 Olympics, giving the United States its first men's bobsled gold medal since 1948. German teams finished second and fourth.

    Canadian teams finished first and second in the women's bobsled competition at the 2010 Games, with Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moss capturing the gold medal.


Schedule, TV and Live Stream Info

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    Schedule of heats for the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition:

    February 16: Two-man heats 1 and 2, 11:15 a.m. ET

    February 17: Two-man heats 3 and 4, 9:30 a.m. ET

    February 18: Women's heats 1 and 2, 10:15 a.m. ET

    February 19: Women's heats 3 and 4, 11:15 a.m. ET

    February 22: Men's four-man heats 1 and 2, 11:30 a.m. ET

    February 23: Men's four-man heats 3 and 4, 4:30 a.m. ET


    Click here for a complete schedule of television coverage of bobsled events.


    All events will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com.


Athletes to Watch

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Steven Holcomb: Holcomb was the pilot on the United States four-man team that won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. He is back to defend his title and try for gold in the two-man event as well.

    Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams: Jones, a 2008 Olympian in the hurdles, and Williams, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 4X100-meter relay, were chosen as pushers for two of the American women's bobsled teams. The Americans have high hopes for medals in the women's event.

    Kaillie Humphries: Canada's Humphries is the reigning two-time World Cup champion and defending Olympic champion.

    Elena Meyers: Ranked No. 2 behind Humphries, the top American pilot hopes to improve on her bronze-medal performance in the 2010 Winter Games.

    Maximilian Arndt: The No. 1-ranked four-man pilot in the world, Arndt is taking over for retired great Andre Lange, as Germany hopes to regain dominance in the four-man event.

    Winston Watts: The 46-year-old Watts came out of retirement to compete for Jamaica, which qualified for the 2014 Winter Games. He had been Jamaica's driver at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Winter Games.

    Beat Hefti: Hefti is the Swiss two-man pilot who is ranked No. 2 in the world, behind Holcomb.

    Alexander Zubkov: Zubkov is among the top pilots in the world and hopes to give Russia its first bobsled gold medal since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.



Men's Four-Man Bobsled

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    The four-man bobsled has a pilot, two crewmen and a brakeman. The pilot sits up front and steers the bobsled, while the brakeman sits in the back and applies the brakes to stop the sled at the end of the run.

    All four crew members push the sled in unison from a standing start for about 50 meters to get underway. The sled then travels 1,500 meters through a course of sharp turns. The pilot steers the sled, trying to navigate the sled efficiently to maximize speed. Each sled completes four heats, with order of finish determined by the cumulative times of the four runs.

    Key Storylines:

    American Steven Holcomb is the defending champion in the four-man bobsled and has a chance to repeat. A book about Holcomb's road to the gold medal has made the 33-year-old pilot an inspirational figure. Holcomb had been blinded by a degenerative eye disease, but a cutting-edge procedure remedied the problem and allowed him to go for gold, according to the USA bobsled website.

    Meanwhile, Germany is attempting to regain dominance in the event. Germany’s run of four straight Olympic gold medals in the four-man event was halted by Holcomb and the Americans in 2010. Germany has two sleds capable of winning a gold medal this time, even though the country’s star, Andre Lange, retired after winning his fourth Olympic gold medal in 2010 in the two-man event.




Men's Two-Man Bobsled

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    The two-man bobsled competition is virtually identical to the four-man event, except that it features only two members rather than four. Each sled has a pilot and a brakeman.

    The pilot sits up front and steers the bobsled, while the brakeman sits in the back and applies the brakes to stop the sled at the end of the run. Both members push the sled in unison from a standing start for about 50 meters to get underway. Each sled completes four heats with order of finish determined by the cumulative times of the four runs.

    Key Storylines:

    Although the Jamaican team does not figure to challenge for a medal, it may provide the main story of the two-man event. The movie Cool Runnings, which was spawned by the Jamaicans' first Olympic bobsled competition, as well as their ability to raise money to compete this year, are expected to make them a popular team.

    They have not competed in the bobsled event in the Olympics in 12 years.

    The Jamaicans were offered a spot in the 2014 Olympics two-man bobsled field based on their season point total even though they did not have the financial resources to compete in the official qualifying event in Switzerland. 

    Aided by the memory of the movie and the Jamaicans' initial Olympic bobsled adventure in 1988, the Jamaican team received enough money through Internet donations to finance a trip to the Olympics this year, according to The Huffington Post.

    Winston Watts, the 46-year-old Jamaican pilot who competed in the 1994, 1998, and 2002 Winter Games, is back. But now he is eight years older than any other bobsledder who qualified for the Olympics.

    Meanwhile, Steven Holcomb is trying to become the first American pilot to sweep the four-man and two-man events in the same Olympics.

Women's Bobsled

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    The women's bobsled is identical to the men's two-man bobsled event except for the gender of the participants. Each sled completes four heats with order of finish determined by the cumulative times of the four runs.

    Key Storylines: 

    Two American sleds are in the running for a gold medal in this event, but the pushers, not the pilots, are getting most of the publicity. Lauryn Williams, who won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic 100 meters and a gold in 2012, and Lolo Jones, who competed in the hurdles at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, were chosen as pushers.

    Jones has been of particular interest. She was the favorite at the 2008 Summer Olympics, but tripped over a hurdle and finished seventh. According to a USA Today report, pushers not chosen for the American bobsled team claimed Jones was given more opportunity to make the team because of her fame.

    In any case, Jones will be a pusher on the third American sled, not one of the two U.S. bobsleds that figure to compete for medals.

    The top two American sleds are piloted by Elana Meyers and Jamie Gruebel, and both have a shot at a gold medal.

    The favorite is Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries, the defending Olympic champion.

Team USA Outlook

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    The United States has a realistic chance to sweep gold medals in all three events, although the Americans are not shoo-ins to win in any of them. This appears to be the strongest bobsled team the United States has ever sent to the Olympics and expectations are high.

    With Steve Holcomb piloting both a two-man and four-man bobsled, the Americans have a chance to win both men's events for the first time since 1932. The U.S. has not won gold in the men's two-man event since 1932.

    Holcomb is ranked No. 2 in the world in the four-man bobsled and with all four members of the his gold-medal winning team back, he is probably the favorite to repeat in that event. Holcomb is ranked No. 1 in the two-man event and has a chance to win that as well.

    The Americans have an opportunity to capture the gold and silver medals in the women's bobsled. The United States has medaled in all three previous women's bobsled competitions held at the Olympics, and it would be a disappointment if it did not medal in Sochi as well.

    Canada's Kaillie Humphries is back to defend the gold medal she won in Vancouver. But that was in her home country, and she is only a slight favorite this time over two American teams. Elana Meyers and Jamie Greubel rank right behind Humphries in the world rankings, and either could pilot her bobsled to a gold medal for the Americans.

    The presence of a strong contingent of pushers, including Olympic sprinter Lauryn Williams and Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, make the U.S. a strong contender.


Medal Predictions

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images
    Men's four-man:

    Gold: United States (pilot Steven Holcomb).

    Silver: Germany (pilot Maximilian Arndt).

    Bronze: Russia (pilot Alexander Zubkov). 

    Men's two-man:

    Gold: Switzerland (pilot Beat Hefti)

    Silver: United States (pilot Steven Holcomb)

    Bronze: Russia (pilot Alexander Subkov). 

    Women's bobsled:

    Gold: Canada (pilot Kaillie Humphries).

    Silver: United States (pilot Elana Meyers)

    Bronze: United States (pilot Jamie Greubel).