Olympic bobsled, Calgary Olympic Park

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CptBeeble
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Olympic bobsled, Calgary Olympic Park

Post by CptBeeble » Sun Jan 19, 2014 12:28 pm

I thought I was prepared for this.

As I walked the path around the last corner of Calgary's Olympic bobsled run, taking note of the huge refrigerator coils working overtime to freeze the ice on the run on this bright, warm day (37deg is "warm" to Canadians, lol), I reminisced about my two luge runs this morning as well as my summer bobsled experience a few months ago. The luge was pretty slow, as you only get to do the last five turns, but the summer bobsled run starts at the top of the course and gets to the bottom in 93 seconds. It's plenty fast, although much slower than the "real" bobsled on ice. They warned me of the high G forces then, but honestly I've felt much stronger Gs on medium-sized roller coasters. No biggie.

On the way up to the top of the hill, someone in our van with an Aussie accent asked how much slower we'd be going than a typical Olympic sled team on this same course. The driver said that our sled, primarily due to a slower push-off at the top, would only be two seconds behind an Olympic time, but that "you won't notice it." This generated some excitement in the van, as we realized that this wasn't a scaled-down version of bobsled, this was the real deal.

Once at the top, we got suited up in helmets and waited for our turn to go. I was in the second sled out, which was good because it allowed time to take some pics of the sled in front as they left the starting line.

While the white sled prepared to go, our driver showed us the steering assembly on our red sled and explained that we needed to make sure we kept from banging into her on the run because she needed to see the course to steer. She also mentioned that she would not be applying any brakes until the finish line because "if I hit the brakes, I'll lose control and we'll crash." Check. No brakes.

The white sled got seated and was soon fitted with a driver (the one with the camera) and was pushed off down the ramp. Our sled was then turned upright and moved into position.

Firstly, it's a tight squeeze in that thing. Secondly, there is almost no padding. You know those little vinyl-covered pads you take to a football stadium to sit on? That's all you have here. Thirdly, it was said that the guy in the back would experience the most intense G forces and I somehow got volunteered for that spot. There is no backrest back there, something I would come to lament in just a few moments.
We all got squozen (if that's not a word, it should be) into the sled and our driver, who said that she's done this particular run more times than anyone else in the world, gave us the "what to do if we crash" spiel. There were a few specifics to that, but it basically amounts to "try not to die."

Some guys got behind the sled, grabbed the handles, and when the announcer said the track was clear, we got pushed into the track. I yelled to the pushers to "push hard" but they seemed to have that in mind anyway.
The first four turns are easy. The sled is picking up speed and with each turn there is a little more wall action. This is the point where you first realize what they don't tell you in the briefing: ice is NOT smooth. Not even close. You're in a steel sled with maybe a half-inch of foam padding under your butt, riding what feels like a skateboard with square wheels over a cobblestone street. Quick mental calculations tell me that when the heavy G forces kick in later, all of this will be amplified. I hope that the course will magically smooth out as it goes, but I'm not relying on it.
Out of turn five and into a straightaway, I recall them saying that the first five turns would take around 20 seconds... and the entire rest of the course would take another 40. Translation: you're going to be hauling serious ass after that straightaway.
We were warned that the transition between turns six and seven would be quick - leaning all the way left, then all the way right pretty quickly. Apparently, to a bobsled driver, "pretty quickly" is a unit of time that is very close to instantaneous. The left side of the sled just simply hits you like a truck and pushes you to the right. Before you can even manage to think, "dafuq was THAT?" you're being crushed. Turn seven is a long horseshoe that lasts maybe 1.5 seconds, or maybe a lifetime, I couldn't really tell. All I knew was that my body was being crushed into the sled by some force of nature, my back was wishing like hell for a backrest to lean against, and city services would need to be called to fix these damn potholes before the next sled went down the run. To say that it was uncomfortable is an understatement for the ages.
Another turn set us up for the fastest part of the run: the looooong steep straightaway into the kreisler turn, a 270deg monster that was responsible for wiping out the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1988 Olympics here. The lead-up to the turn was insanely fast and you could see the curve ahead. What you couldn't see was any way to get out of actually having to do it.
I remember feeling like I needed to warn my fellow sledders about the impending doom and I yelled something like "here we go" or "here it comes" or something like that, but it might've just been more like, "pbfdasdf nereiw as &^%$%^&!", I can't remember. All I know is that after the crushing experience just a second ago in turn seven, I was going to remember to shrug my shoulders this time to try to keep my body more in a straight line. I shrugged.
A G-force of 4.5 doesn't sound that bad to someone who's been on damn near 600 different roller coasters in his lifetime. After all, most of the old-school Schwarzkopf looping coasters, like the one at the West Edmonton Mall, pull more Gs than that. The difference is that they do those Gs for fractions of a second and the forces are in constant flux, a plottable arc from 1G to 5Gs and back to 1G. This is different. This is 4.5 Gs slammed onto your body and held there for nearly 3 seconds while the sled jackhammers under you. Every little bump wants to break your body, every big bump wants to crush your soul. Oh, and that shrugging of the shoulders? Just try to keep your shoulders shrugged with someone who weighs 4.5 times as much as you weigh standing on your shoulders. Right. I was able to do it through most of the turn, but holy crap it was hard to do. When my shoulders finally succumbed, my head tried to smack my knees, which of course was impossible in that little sled. That's also the moment with all the muscles between my shoulder blades informed me that we would NOT be trying that shit again.
The rest of the run is a literal blur. I don't remember much about it because my head was usually down and the adrenaline was making me simultaneously hyper-alert and foggy. I do remember my spine asking me after each turn, "that was the last one, right? RIGHT???"
A burst of sunlight informed me that we had left the last horseshoe and had hit the finish line, familiar territory for me after the morning's luge runs. I was as relieved as I was thrilled. Unlike previous runs, though, there was no stopping and hopping out of the sled.... we were still hauling ass. The driver hit the brakes, which I could hear but not really feel, and we needed nearly all of the run-out hill to get the sled stopped. The observation bridge, which had always been visible in the distance ahead on previous runs, was behind us. A LONG WAY behind us. Holy crap.
I slowly, painfully, unfolded my body out of the sled and stood up. My co-sledders seemed a little less pummeled than I was and I got a high-five. The driver hopped out of the sled like it was no big deal and I envied her young body's ability to snap back so quickly... or maybe the front seat of the sled has considerably lesser G forces... or maybe she's an alien from a planet with stronger gravity and she's used to it, I don't know. I just know that the walk back to the observation bridge seemed really long.
I know that most of the above seems like it was a horrible experience, but that's primarily because I'm writing this the morning after and everything in my body is sore. Truth be told, though, that it's probably the most exciting, most intense, most thrilling thing I've ever done. Period. It was totally worth the temporary discomfort and I'm absolutely glad that I did it.
I just need a decade or two to recover before I do it again.

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Paul Drabek
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Re: Olympic bobsled, Calgary Olympic Park

Post by Paul Drabek » Sun Jan 19, 2014 1:15 pm

Great TR...mental note don't sit in the back but someday I will do it.
Life is short....have fun!

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