Bobsleigh in Vancouver: quality racing guaranteed
A combination of G-force, labyrinths and omegas – and a highly competitive field – on the impressive Whistler track should make for some exiting quality racing in Vancouver. At the Olympic Games, the men take part in the two-man and four-man events, while the women – who made their Olympic debut at Salt Lake City in 2002 – compete in a two-woman event. In all three events, medals are awarded to the team which posts the lowest combined time from the four heats, which are held over two days of competition. The aim of getting from start to finish as quickly as possible looks simple, but the 1,450-metre iced track is marked by steep banking, turns and high-speed straights.
Fast start and right line are key
The key to success in bobsleigh is a fast start, hence the current emergence of former athletes and even American footballers among bobsleigh’s eclectic field of competitors. Sleds run on four highly-polished steel runners, the front two of which can be controlled by the driver. Although a fast start is crucial, the driver’s skill in finding his “right line” down the track is equally important: sleds can often reach speeds in excess of 140kmh. The track at the Whistler Sliding Centre features 16 turns, with the maximum slope gradient, of 20 percent, at turn two.
Skeleton: downhill head first
The skeleton sees a single rider travelling head first down the track on a sled and features men’s and women’s events. There are no steering or braking mechanisms, and the sled must be steered by movements of the athlete’s body. In Vancouver, the skeleton events will be four-heat competitions for the first time at the Olympic Winter Games. Skeleton athletes wear alpine skiing racing helmets, goggles or face shields, and skin-tight racing suits made from a stretch material. Racing shoes are similar to spiked athletics shoes, for traction on the ice.
Best all-round track
The Whistler Sliding Centre, based outside Vancouver on the southeast slope of Blackcomb Mountain, will be the home of the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton competitions. Started in 2005 and opened in 2008, the refrigerated track has the capacity to welcome 12,000 spectators. Chances for respite between its 16 turns will be few and far between – the pressure will be on the medal contenders from the word go. Post-Games, the track will form part of the centre for high-performance development, youth and recreational club programming, and will cater for tourist and public admissions as well as remaining a top venue for world class athletes.
World Champion Nicola Minichiello from Great Britain says about the venue: “It’s the ultimate as regards speed and technique, with a lot of corners and a fast start. Some tracks favour good drivers while others favour teams who are fast at the start, but this one is the best all-round track. For us, it’s great.”
Learn more about bobsleigh and skeleton: