As the saying goes: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. After complaining about training in winter conditions a few days ago, I decided to just give in and embrace the winter. I took an extra day off of training to spend a long weekend of enjoying winter sports activities and relaxing with Kate in picturesque St. Mortiz.
Naturally the first thing to try out was the bobsled, which was born in St. Moritz more than a century ago. The historic Olympia Bobrun from St. Moritz to Celerina has hosted two Olympic Games and is the only all natural ice track in the world. The track records are reset yearly as the track is rebuilt from scratch and carved from snow with slight variances each time. The Swiss are also one of the best nations in the history of the sport. Just think of the focus and precision of the Swiss team in the movie Cool Runnings and you know what level of respect they get in the sport. Switzerland has more medals than any other country in the bobsled and the 2010 Vancouver Games actually marked the first time since 1964 that the Swiss team did not win a medal. Throwers also have a close connection to bobsled. In Switzerland the brakewoman for Swiss 1 is also our national champion in the discus. The driver for the men’s Swiss 2 sled last season was a former top junior thrower for my club. Outside of Switzerland numerous throwers have tried the event, perhaps the most succesful of which was Olympic gold medalist Marco Jakob of Germany who had thrown 64.96 meters in the discus at age 22 before focusing more on the bobsled.
This isn’t my first flirt with the bobsled, just the first time I’ve written about it. My clubmate had asked me to do a few tests back in 2011, but it conflicted with my meet schedule. After visiting the World Cup event in St. Moritz in January 2012, I knew I wanted to try it myself. I started with several push trainings with both him and 1998 bronze medalist pilot Marcel Rohner. Push trainings help starting technique; essentially you practice pushing and loading into a bobsled retrofitted to slide on a downhill railroad track. It was a blast, especially since it was all electronically timed and recorded so I could work on improving my times and technique. While my lack of sprint training did not show up in my times, it did in my hip flexors and hamstrings. So, after no sprinting since 2005, I asked Bondarchuk to implement some in my winter training this season. While I do not know if it has helped my hammer, I can definitely sprint better now.
Unfortunately, we did not get to do push starts at the Swiss Sledding event on Saturday. We started a third of the way down the track in a one-person Monobob (only the two- and four-person bobsleds are Olympic events). To make it simpler for us beginners on the ice for the first time, Marcel pushed us while we were already seated. However, as you can guess, with only one person in the sled I got to drive. One minute later, after essentially doing a U-turn after reaching my top speed of over 112 kph (70 mph), I was filled with adrenaline. You can kind of see how it went on the video below, although it is a hard sport for a fan to video. After I stopped I quickly jumped in the back of a truck with my sled and raced nearly as fast to the top of the track to do it all over again.
While I thought watching the bobsled in person was exciting because you got a real sense for the speed the sled travels at, sitting inside it was even better. Feeling the power of each turn, as they jump at you right after each other, adds a new dimension. It is like sitting in a roller coaster that you can control. Your eyes and mind stay so focused on the ice ahead that I didn’t even notice the announcer screaming out times throughout each of my runs. If anyone gets a chance to try it, I highly recommend it.
As exuberant as I am, you do not have to worry that my hammer throwing posts will stop anytime soon. My focus has not left the hammer throw. But I think I will continue to explore this new sport too. What’s not to like: it’s an exciting sport offering little stardom, almost no money, a close-knit community, and a shot at glory just once every four years. That sounds familiar to me.