Do you like to go really, really fast? Have you grown bored with roller coasters and are searching for your next adrenaline rush? Do you have a strong heart, back, and neck and don’t mind a few bruises? If the idea of hurtling down an icy track at speeds over 80 mph with the possibility of flipping over midway down the course sounds intriguing to you, you might be just right for a development bobsled team.
Back in the 1800s, bobsled (bobsleigh outside of the U.S.) runs were built from blocks of ice, but these days, they’re molded from concrete and lined with cooling tubes. Prior to races, the bottom and sides of the concrete run are packed with snow which is then soaked with water. The water freezes, creating an icy smooth race surface. There are only two bobsled runs in the United States – Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York – both former Winter Olympics sites. The same track is used for bobsled, luge, and skeleton races.
Athletic Skill Required
Spectators generally underestimate the strength and skill required to be a bobsled athlete. The aerodynamically-designed sleds are made of steel and fiberglass, and an empty 2-man sled weighs 463 pounds; the 4-man sled weighs 860 pounds. The driver, brakeman, and (if 4-man) the other push athletes need to be strong enough to get the sled going from a dead stop, push and run as hard as they can, jump and tuck into the cramped sled, and then withstand as much as 5 Gs of gravitational force during the ride. The driver must understand the physics and subtleties of the course. Driving low around the turns makes the course shorter, but you lose momentum. Too high around the turns makes the sled faster, but lengthens the course. Too much steering creates friction between runners and ice, slowing the sled. Hit the walls at just the wrong time and speed, and you crash. The difference between an Olympic medal and no medal at all is the tiniest fraction of a second.
Most bobsled athletes are “crossover athletes,” with backgrounds in other sports requiring strength and speed. Track and field athletes, in particular, are often recruited to train for bobsled. Training includes plenty of running, short sprints, weight lifting, jumping, pushing and pulling. It’s not enough to be able to push a heavy sled. If you can’t sprint, jump, and tuck into the sled in super quick time, you’re not going to make the team.
Each of the North American Olympic parks offers bobsled rides and camps. The list below also includes ways you can learn to drive a bobsled and try out for the U.S. team.