Olympic fans were able to watch solo bobsleigh at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016 and Lausanne 2020. The women’s event is now on the programme of the Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, and unlike other bobsleigh events, the athletes use a bob that is identical to those of all their competitors, giving pride of place to the driving, with the value of the equipment having no bearing.
Monobob enjoyed a successful Olympic debut at the Winter YOG organised in 2016 in Lillehammer, and it was a real revolution for this sport, which has been on the Winter Games programme since the very first edition in Chamonix in 1924. For decades, the world of bobsleigh has been dominated by teams using F1 technology and aerospace engineering to design the fastest possible bobs, while keeping their innovative research into aerodynamics closely under wraps.
The monobob has been designed to respond to all that and take technology out of the equation by making athletes use the same sleds. As a result, the second runs at Lillehammer saw the fastest athletes on the first runs swap sleds with the slowest! By making the bobsleigh competitions into one-athlete events, the organisers also sought to open the sport up to as many countries as possible and encourage more young athletes to give it a try.
“This is the second season we have been racing with monobobs, but the first time at a major event,” said Ivo Ferriani, President of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF), at the time. “I am sure it will help to develop a young generation because it makes it easier for them to approach the sport. It is sustainable in cost and it’s safe. You don’t need someone behind you to drive. You do not focus on the material [technology]. You focus on the driving and the athletic skill.”
Like for the two- and four-man versions, the quality of the start is of vital importance. A good push can save hundredths of a second. But this is the job of the lone pilot, who, once inside the sled, has to find the best path throughout the run, without the equipment being a factor. The monobob is long and aerodynamic, complete with large steel runners on both sides of the forward cowling.
International circuit established and equipment provided by the IBSF
After this remarkable debut, the IOC Executive Board decided on 18 July 2018 to add monobob to the programme of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, along with the seven new events that will make their first appearance on the Olympic stage in China. To ensure a balance, there will be a women’s event only. The male athletes compete in the two- and four-man events, while, since 2002, female athletes have taken part in the two-woman bob. They will thus also have two events, and this could increase the universality of bobsleigh, as the countries lacking in technological equipment or athletes with pushing skills will have a better chance, insofar as a good pilot is the only things that matters. Like in the two- and four-man bob, the same pilot can compete in two events at the Games.
The world’s women’s monobob circuit was established by the IBSF for the 2018-19 season, with identical sleds provided by the International Federation. Australia’s Breeana Walker won the first international competition at this level, winning the two races staged over two heats, on 4 and 5 November 2018 in Lillehammer. For these first two events, there were 12 pilots from seven nations, with the two podium places, behind Walker, taken by France’s Margot Boch and the Netherlands’ Karlien Sleper in this order, with them swapping places for the next race. There were four other races last winter, the winners of which were Canada’s Christine De Bruin in Königssee (12 December), her Olympic two-woman bob team-mate Melissa Lotholz in Calgary (10 January), then Australia’s Ashleigh Werner and Canada’s Cynthia Serwaah in Lake Placid (12 and 13 April).
Participation is increasing considerably this winter, as is the number of races, with eight on the programme. The 2019-20 season kicked off on 18 and 20 November at the tracks in Lake Placid and Lillehammer, with a total of 32 athletes from 17 nations competing. Canada’s Cynthia Appiah won on the American track, while Russia’s Anastasiia Makarova beat Margot Boch and Karlien Sleper in Norway, and China’s Ying King then won in Königssee. Park City (USA), La Plagne (France) and Lake Placid – in April 2020 – are playing host to the other women’s monobob events organised by the IBSF this winter.
Meanwhile, monobob made its second Olympic appearance at the YOG Lausanne 2020. On the Olympia Bob Run in St Moritz, the competitions were so close that, for the men, Germany’s Alexander Czudaj and Romania’s Andrei Robert Nica were declared joint winners, with an identical time of 2 minutes 24.8 seconds after the two runs. In the women’s event, a hard-fought battle ended with victory for Romania’s Georgeta Popescu, ahead of this winter’s best youth bobsledder, Viktoria Cernanska from Slovakia.
Keep a close eye on monobob events this and the next two winters, to get a better idea of those involved in the run-up to the Beijing 2022 Games.