2010 Winter Olympics: Understanding Bobsled and the Athletes To Watch

Russell FikeCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2010

WHISTLER, BC - FEBRUARY 23:  Aoife Hoey and Claire Bergin of Ireland compete in Ireland 1 during the Women's Bobsleigh Heat 1 on day 12 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at the Whistler Sliding Centre on February 23, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

A hybrid sport of athletic quality and technical superiority, bobsled is a fan favorite of the Winter Olympics.

With a 4,800 foot track that boasts a 500 foot vertical drop and speeds peaking just above 90 miles per hour, the adrenaline of the race pulses as the life of the event.

Yet it is the hours of designing, building, and on the day of the race, preparing the sled that can make the difference. 

The success of a bobsled team is dependent on three factors:

The Start:

Quite simply, the bobsledders must build up as much speed as possible by pushing the sled along the ice at a sprint.  Before the track declines, all the riders must cleanly get inside the vehicle.

It is the need to build up as much speed at the top of the run as possible that has resulted in both sprinters and professional football players making the transition to bobsled.

The “need for speed” at the start was also the argument for turning Jamaican sprinters into bobsledders, paving the way for other tropical nations and further stirring public excitement.

The Sled:

It’s not surprising that a country known for automobile engineering—Germany—also sees great success in bobsled.

Advances in sled design regarding aerodynamics and minimizing resistance of the runners on the track by building sleds with flexible bodies is a large component of the event.

Click here for more info on the United State ’s sled

Or here for info about sled preparation the day of the event

The driver:

Most important to the success of a bobsled team is its driver. 

With ice water running through his or her veins, a bobsled driver must use subtle steering devices to cleanly take the sled down the track without hitting walls or coming out of turns so as to lose speed.

Previewing the event at the 2010 games:

Three events feature the bobsled at this Olympics: the 2-man, 4-man, and women’s 2-person events.

The 2-man event was won by the favorites, Germany, led by driver Andre Lange. 

Lange has won 18 medals total, including now four Olympic Golds.

However, the United States won the 4-man world title for the first time in 50 years when driver Steve Holcomb and his sled, Night Train, earned victory at the 2009 World Championships.

Look for Holcomb and the Night Train team to challenge Lange for medal position.

In the 2-man event, Holcomb came into heats 3 and 4 sitting in the fourth position, and after a near crash in heat 3 never seemed to regain his composure.  Hopefully he will shake it off for the 4-man event.  

Where the U.S. medal situation looks even more hopeful is in the women’s event, where all three American sled squads are currently within striking distance.

Halfway through the competition and with two heats to go, the U.S. has all three teams in the top third.

Most promising is Elana Meyers and Erin Pac sitting at No. 2, only .13 seconds behind the Canadians, Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse.

The U.S. also has two teams tied for sixth.