Monday, October 31, 2011

My first run: Can I actually Bobsled?

Park City -Utah

"It's like a grand prix on ice.. without brakes" - Jake Peterson, USA bobsledder

I still wasn't used to the cold in Utah, but the chill I got when I heard those words, had nothing to do with the weather. I was doing a track-walk, something every bobsled pilot does before a run. They memorise corners, visualise their run.. and in some cases poke occasional fun at the skeleton pilots doing the runs before them.

As a brakeman (the guy at the back.. or as Cool Runnings fans might prefer - Sanka) I wasn't needed on a track-walk, my head stays tucked in, looking at the bottom of the sled for the entire run. But I thought it might be best to familiarise myself with the track, and the guy who was about to take me down a bobsled run for the first time. He seemed confident... he is American, but my Aussie pilot Jason Oliveri assured me he had the goods.

I was only in this position because our gear had been delayed on it's road journey from Lake Placid (USA's other bob-track), and so with no running shoes, no burn vests and no suits, me and Jason had been confined to a slower form of transport until now... walking. 

With our gear delayed we loitered at the bottom of the bob-track today as all the other teams here, from Panama to Canada did their first runs of the Park City Bob and Skeleton School. 

Jason tuning up his new sled

As we waited, Jason started talking to an American junior pilot (Jake Peterson) who needed a brakeman for the evening session. Without thinking I volunteered...

So there I was, walking down the track with Jake, as he ran me through the starting procedure. It sounded simple.. launch into the sled to get it moving, switch hand positions, sprint, jump in, hold on for dear life, and then brake after the finish line. 

We made our way up to the top (yes I was starting from the top), set the sled into the starting grooves and got in position. Instantly, all the things I needed to remember vanished from my head, all I knew how to do was run... so I did. Jake gave me the signal and I just bolted, not a thought of anything else in my my head. 

In my panic I forgot to switch hand positions.. so with my hands all awkward I ran... on ice.. down a hill, pushing a $20, 000 sled.. this was an odd place to be. 

Jake jumped in.. I was supposed to run a few more steps, but knowing I'd already forgotten the hand movements I didn't want to fall further behind... so I jumped straight in.

What happened next is hard to explain.. the sled moves at around 140 kilometers per hour by the end of a run... and at times, there are g-forces of around 4 or 5. 

As a brakeman I grab onto small metal hand holds, and clutch on as hard as I can. Literally, I bounced around like I was in a giants washing machine... The need for a crash helmet was quickly discovered as every corner threw me against the side of sled, and at every big bend, the g-force squashed me to the floor, every bit of oxygen was forced out of me.

As I went down for the first time I distinctly remember thinking that I really didn't like bobsled much at all. 

Before I could delve deeper into my psyche while hurtling down a mountain, my pilot yelled "Brake" .. and I grabbed the metal in my hands and cranked it up... the teeth digging into the ice made a horrendous sound, but in many ways it was a good one.. I had survived.

I was shaking as my Aussie pilot Jason (who was at the bottom tuning our sled) asked how it went.

"Amazing, that was so fun," I lied.

"Lets take this next start seriously!" yelled Jake with American gusto.

"Definitely!" I said back, with a feeble attempt to sound equally enthusiastic.

We hitched a truck... and Jake talked me through the starts again as we rode up the dark road toward the top of the mountain. It was spectacular to look down on the track and the city.

The second start was much cleaner, I remembered to switch hands, but it was still a blur.. and as I jumped in I dug my spikes into Jake's back. Apparently it's common, but it must have hurt.

Again the run happened so quickly... 50 seconds to cover about 1.5km.

We got to the bottom, and found out we'd set the fastest start time for the session, 5.33 seconds. Apparently that was good, and Jake seemed happy.

By the third run I was far more confident at the top.. but Jake decided he wanted to try a different method at the start. I won't lie, I got spooked and although we set a 5.31 second start I screwed my entry into the sled.

For a moment was seriously concerned the giant brake-less vehicle would go down without me.

It didn't, thankfully... and as we got out to the end of the final run, with some gnarly bruises forming on my legs from bumping against the side...I oddly decided that I didn't mind the sport so much... tomorrow morning may be a different story.

Icing my very very battered legs

According to Jason, we'll take it much easier tomorrow, and head off in the Aussie sled for the first time from the junior start... that means less pressure, less speed, and maybe only a few more bruises.

Just a BIG THANK YOU to everyone for all the messages of support over the last few weeks/days, it means a lot, and I definitely could not have done it without you all.

I'll leave you with a picture of the pilots seat inside the Australian bobsled, left their by it's previous owner. Till next time..

Keep feeling the rhythm.

1 comment:

  1. Can I be jealous of you crashing a bobsled?? Sounds far too exciting bro