background. I’m here to check out how it feels. Stepping out from the taxi in snow-soft quiet, I decide it might be sensible first to walk the route. In the weak afternoon light my eyes are drawn to the dully gleaming ice on the vertically- banked curves. It’s old and greying, patterned by the scars of the season’s steel runners. At intervals the shiny sur- face is streaked with unfortunate red— steering guides to help the drivers judge the curves. (At this point I wonder whether Norwegians have a more refined sense of humour than I had previously given them credit for, or is the choice of colour merely intimidatory?) In the silence and isolation, the atmosphere is
BOBSLEIGH W/E BLUEPRINT
considered verdict—although the ‘manageable’ bit wavers slightly when I take a close peer down the track from the lower women’s start—I decide against doing the same from the men’s start at the top: best save that for later.
No return Course inspection over, I’m summoned by tannoy back to base and bundle into an old crew bus with my driver, brake- man and fellow passenger. Soon enough, we reach the (very) top and it’s time to go. While the bob is being winched into place, I’m breezily briefed. “Everything’s simple: grab a helmet, climb inside, brace your knees, and grip like hell.”
It’s at this point—inside the stationary bob, beyond turning back—that fear
“the acceleration nails me to the sled, my shoulder and neck mus- cles start to scream...”
takes brief but forceful hold. Brief because, as the bob begins inexorably to move away, I find my thoughts rapidly flicking onto more practical issues (like am I slipping out).
With gathering speed, the dull rumble of the ice grows beneath my legs to reach a growling roar. The first turn sees a surge of adrenalin, then a second, third, fourth—each sharper and faster than the last. Once gravity really gets a grip, the bob hurtles through the course with the turns now coming one on top of the other too fast to count. As the twisting acceleration nails me to the sled, and my shoulder and neck muscles start to scream, the dominant and not wholly attractive sensation is of my head being forced slowly, but irresistibly, between my knees. (It’s at a time like this that you appreciate that the sport’s powers-that-be are not simply killjoys in limiting bob runs to a minute or so in length.) Thankfully, just as I am beginning to think my neck won’t hold out much longer, the track abruptly straightens up, the brakes are flung on, in we grind to a halt in a freezing spray of ice.
Where at the beginning there was gnawing fear, it’s now replaced by unconstrained euphoria. I’ve survived, and, hey, it was actually sort of fun.
Some, a few, climb out and set up another run right there and then. If that’s you, beware: you’re well on the way to being hooked, for if you’re a speed junkie there really is very little to match the cold, the ice and the G’s. For me, however, once is enough. It’s an experience I’ll never forget: an amazing adventure, even if next time I’ll leave it to the pros.
© A.B. Flint.
Top Women’s Start, Lillehammer bob track; Bottom Bobraft exiting Turn 12