I’ve been watching the sliding sports at Beijing 2022 (skeleton, luge, bobsled) and the common criticism amongst the British athletes and commentary teams are poor equipment. It seemed perplexing to effectively have 4 years of R&D and provide equipment that was slower than the rest of the field (especially when Team GB have won medals at previous Games) but that might not be the only issue.
For the NYT, Jonathan Abrams wrote about how “sleds made for speed are finding tracks built to slow them down“, all in the name of safety:
The expanding incorporation of technology into sliding sports is happening with one overarching goal: making sleds faster. Virtually every country with aspirations of winning Olympic medals at this month’s Beijing Olympics in bobsled, skeleton and luge is now aligned with a racecar designer, aeronautics expert or rocket scientist.
They will chase those medals at China’s Yanqing National Sliding Center, where the track’s 16 winding curves are designed to resemble a dragon and three uphill sections, including a 360-degree turn, were constructed with one overarching goal: slowing the sleds down.
“All teams are aiming to get faster and that’s the name of the game,” said Dwight Bell, the general secretary of the International Luge Federation, the sport’s global governing body. “But you don’t want the sled speeds to exceed what the track has been designed for.”
The tension of those competing interests comes as luge, bobsled and skeleton are still in the beginning stages of understanding the long-term effects of athletes hurling themselves down icy chutes at blistering speeds, as well as the relationship between those sports and brain injuries.
In recent years, a growing number of bobsled and skeleton athletes have reported chronic conditions like headaches and fogginess that are most often associated with contact sports like football, ice hockey and boxing. Three North American bobsledders have died by suicide since 2013, including Pavle Jovanovic, a member of the United States bobsled team at the 2006 Olympics, who died in 2020 at age 43.
I mentioned the injuries of another winter sport that didn’t make it past demonstration status—speed skiiing—but this is way more serious and goes beyond the quadrennial period of the Winter Olympics.