Bobsleigh & skeleton: a Great British success story

The creation of the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association comes on the back of a remarkable period of success for both sports, with the 2015 World Championships seeing British Skeleton star Lizzy Yarnold add yet another Gold medal to her growing CV, while British Bobsleigh claimed a fine fifth-place finish at the same Winterberg meet.

Yarnold now holds Olympic, World Championship and European titles, having inherited the former from fellow Brit Amy Williams, who won Gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, four years after Shelley Rudman landed Silver in Turin.

Great Britain’s four-man bobsleigh squad have now claimed fifth place at the last three global championships, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. They were the third-best ranked nation in Winterberg five
months ago, with only Germany and Latvia pipping them to the podium.

Both sports have secured numerous podium finishes on the World Cup, Intercontinental Cup, Europa Cup and North American Cup circuits in recent seasons and both squads are hoping for more of the same as the journey towards the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang gathers pace.

What is bobsleigh?

  • Bobsleigh is a team sport in which men compete in two and four man sleighs and women compete in two-woman crews
  • They push the sled as a team and then all load into the bobsleigh in quick succession or in unison
  • The pilot or driver then takes over the steering and negotiates the bobsleigh through a sequence of tricky turns at speeds of up to 150kph (93mph), over a course that is on average one mile long
  • When the bobsleigh reaches the finish line, the brakeperson slows the sled down to a stop
  • Crews have either two or four timed runs down a track, with the combined times resulting in a team’s final position in the standings

What is skeleton?

  • Skeleton athletes must negotiate a series of tricky twists and turns, on a one-person sled that offers little protection from the ice or barriers, while reaching speeds of up to 140km/h
  • Competitors slide head first, with their face just inches from the ice
  • The track can be unforgiving - so the athletes must stay focused or risk finding themselves on the cold ice. To be the best of the best, athletes need lightning-fast reaction times, physical and mental strength and a bit of help from the latest technology
  • As with bobsleigh, athletes have either two or four runs down a track, with each run timed. The times are then added together to calculate the winner

The tracks

In the early days of both sports, all races were held on natural ice tracks. These days, with the exception of St Moritz in Switzerland, competitions take place on artificially refrigerated ice tracks.

To create a refrigerated track, ammonia is pumped through pipes in concrete walls to cool them. Water is then sprayed on the concrete until it freezes. This is done repeatedly until layers and layers of ice are formed. It can take a couple of days to fully prepare a track for racing.

Most tracks are between 1.2km and 1.8km in length and have their own unique characteristics and varying degrees of difficulty. The average gradient is between 8.5 and 10%, with a maximum of between 15 and 20%. The vertical drop (which is the difference in height between the start and finish of the track) is, on average, between 110m and 130m.

Each track has a different combination of bends. Some, called ‘Kreisel’ bends, even loop through a full 360 degrees, where athletes must negotiate the equivalent of a two-storey-high wall.

Believe it or not, many tracks even have uphill sections. Sochi, in Russia, for example, has three. The last section of the track is uphill to help the athletes safely slow down to a stop.