How to sound smart during the Winter Olympics: Bobsled

When watching bobsled, the very first thing you might use to make yourself sound smart is that the official spelling (and perhaps pronunciation) of the sport is “bobsleigh.” Smart, maybe, but also verging on the obnoxious. A second, much more fun factoid, is that the sport evolved from an absurdist  amateur sled racing arms race in a single Swiss town that eventually led to sleds having to be outlawed from being used on streets!

This post is one in a series of posts about the Winter Olympics that arm the casual viewer with a single tactic to sound smart while watching each event. Focusing on these details may also make your viewing experience more enjoyable!

Sports chatter notwithstanding, there is a single element of bobsled which you may enjoy focusing on as you watch and which will definitely impress your Olympics watching friends. This element is getting into the sled.

At the start of every bobsled race, none of the bobsledders are actually in the sled! In the two person events, one person is behind the sled, with a hand on either side and one person, the driver, is closer to the front of the sled on one side. In the four person events, two people are in the positions already described and the additional two people are on either side of the sled behind the driver and ahead of the person in the back. Got that? The race begins when these two or four people start sprinting like crazy, pushing their sled as they run.

This may seem like a slightly insane (or is it inane) way to start an Olympic sport, but it soon gets even more chaotic! As soon as the sled has picked up enough speed and by rule, before the sled has traveled 50 meters, the bobsledders need to get into their vehicle. As you might guess, this is minutely choreographed, because every moment when a bobsledder is neither pushing the sled nor aerodynamically tucked into the sled is a lost moment for the team. In the two person races, this means the driver jumps in and tucks themselves down followed quickly by the pusher at the back who leaps in right after. In the four person races, the driver goes, then the person behind them on their side, then the person on the opposite side, then the person in the back. The difficulty of getting all these motions just right at a full sprint it exponentially harder.

Any small blunder getting into the sled is not only incredibly costly to a team’s chances, it’s also sometimes… a little funny? Of course, missing the sled entirely or going in sideways is likely to be noticed by all Olympics viewers, no matter how casual, but if you look for the momentary hesitation of the third or fourth person into a sled whose routine is disrupted by an unexpected movement from someone ahead of her or a stray elbow that dangles too far out before being tucked in, you will be an impressive Olympics viewer indeed!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer