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Winter Olympic Games and The Bobsleigh

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Bobsleigh, bobsled, and bobsledge are generally names for the same event - a gravity-powered sled, racing for time down a narrow concrete or ice track with many turns. Speeds may exceed 85 mph (140 km/h). That is over 117 feet every second. Curves increase g-force, with some as high as 5 g.

Modern sleighs have either two or four crew - a pilot and brakeman, and, in 4-man sleighs, two pushers to get the sleigh going before they jump in the narrow vehicle with the other two. Crew have to be fast and strong. The world governing body is the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing.

Until 2009, the Park City Utah track was called the "world fastest ice," with the highest recorded luge speed according to the Guinness Book of World Records. That record was broken at the 2009 Luge World Cup in British Columbia, Canada. The Vancouver track of the 2010 Winter Olympics is designed to be faster, with the highest vertical drop of all tracks yet designed.

Creating and maintaining competition and practice tracks for athletes is expensive. To offset expenses, some tracks allow civilians to try the bobsleigh down the actual track. Paul and I had a wild ride in Park City Utah, which had hosted the bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Price for a ride was a moderate $60 US.

The Utah track has 15 turns in 1335 meters (almost a mile) and close to an 8% grade. Some of the turns are named, for example, Turn 4 is Sunny Corner, the sunniest part of the track. Turn 5 is Snowy Corner, the snowiest. The section between 14 and 15 is the fastest, leading to the "Graveyard" section.

My husband Paul is lanky, and a muscular near-7-footer. Looks slim enough, but his size turned out to give us the wildest ride that the management said that a tourist ever had.


Because of Paul's long legs, they gave him the second seat behind the professional driver. I was man three, and a large man we didn't know was crew #4. We jumped in and took off. Paul's enormous feet had nowhere to go except directly blocking the driver's elbows, preventing him from steering the high g curves. We banked high and higher on each turn. It was thrilling. We were also banging side to side like thunder. My helmet rattled the side rails like a bobble-head doll. The view? For me, Paul's giant back and nothing else. Paul said that on the banked turns, when he could turn his neck at all against the g-force, he could glance up and see the bottom of the track. The nice man behind me tolerated me compacted against his padded belly by Paul ironing me flat from the front.

At the bottom, the dazed driver congratulated us on what he said was probably the wildest ride ever by amateurs.

We didn't break a world record, but pulled higher g-s than the usual ride and may have renamed the end of the course Paul's Patch. That worked out pretty cheaply per g.

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Bobsleigh photo via Wikipedia.
Photo of us copyright © Dr.Bookspan thanks to the Utah Olympic center for taking it.
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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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