With speeds of 80 mph and more, the sliding sports are some of the fastest and most treacherous at the Winter Olympics.
The fundamental purpose of sliding sports at the Olympic Winter Games – luge, skeleton and bobsleigh – is the same. Slide down the steep, narrow and icy track faster than your competition. But each sport, among the fastest at the Games, has its unique characteristics, one of which will add a new event for 2022
Bobsleigh is the original sliding sport, making its debut in the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
For years, there were three disciplines: two-man, four-man and two-man. In four-man crews, mixed crews have been permitted since 2014, but since more weight is generally desirable in a sled, this option is rarely used. As part of the effort towards equal opportunities for women, the new monobob event has been added to the women’s side only in 2022. As the name suggests, only one woman will be in the sled.
Much of what determines who wins comes at the start. Team members push the sled as hard and fast as they can – holding retractable handles – and jump into it. The driver in the front controls the steering. Everyone is pretty much there for the ride except the person in the back who pulls the brake at the end of the ride.
Getting that push early on often means athletes from other sports are invited to join the team.
US Olympic sprinter Lolo Jones was added to the women’s bobsleigh roster ahead of the 2014 Olympics and won gold at the 2021 world championships with pilot Kaillie Humphries. Former NFL running back Herschel Walker was part of the USA two-man bobsled team at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. His sled finished seventh.
Speeds are known to reach over 90 mph.
There is no race start here. The slider hooks onto a pair of handles to launch itself down the course before lying on its back on the sled. Unlike bobsledding, the slider’s body is completely exposed to the elements. This can lead to serious injury if they crash at speeds approaching 90 mph.
Steering can be done either by shifting the weight of the body, using the calves to change the direction of the skates – the blades that make contact with the track – or by pulling the handles that the slider holds onto.
At the 2022 Games, there will be men’s singles, women’s singles and a doubles competition, plus a team relay. In singles, each slider gets four runs over two days. In doubles, it’s two rounds in one day. The person or team with the fastest combined time in each event is the winner.
In the relay, a single woman, a single man and a doubles team take turns down the track. When each gets to the bottom, the slider must reach out and hit an overhead paddle to open the door at the top, allowing the next slider to pass through. There is only one run, with time starting when the first cursor passes and ending when the last cursor touches the paddle.
Want to slide headfirst down an icy, twisty hill at speeds of over 80 mph with virtually nothing but a helmet to protect you in the event of a fall? Skeleton is your sport.
The slider runs as fast as he can, leaning over and pushing his sled to get started. Then they jump on it. To steer, gliders can use their knees or shoulders to put pressure on the corners of the sled, use body weight shifts, or tap their toes on the ice.
There are no doubles or team competitions in skeleton, only men’s singles and women’s singles. Each slider gets a total of four races over two days, with the fastest combined time winning the gold medal.
One thing to watch out for in the skeleton is the artwork that sliders like to put on their helmets.