Winter Olympics: Seductive Sigulda sweeps me off my feet

By Tim Ivins

With the Winter Olympics just around the corner and with me experiencing a white winter for the first time, I decided to take advantage of the conditions and experience something that would be impossible in Australia. The four man bobsled.

For those of you who aren’t quite sure what that entails, cast your mind back to the days of perms, Baywatch, pink tank tops and David Hasslehoff Number Ones (but only in Germany) and you will remember a Disney movie about the Jamaican bobsled team. That was what I was about to do. I was going to be the anchor in a four-man bobsled.

In order to do this, I travelled to the former Soviet Republic of Latvia, a place dear to my heart following a school project I had done in Primary School that caused the teacher to remark: “Next time pick a country I have heard of.”

The track was built by the Soviets as their Olympic training facility in the late ’80s. As I stepped out of the car, the view was awe-inspiring; a wall of ice 1200 metres in length spiralled from a tower to the bottom of the valley some 120 metres below.

Standing at the top we were introduced to our pilot, who competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. He explained that the entire run would take about 47 seconds to complete, hitting a maximum speed of around 105 kilometres an hour. Gravity would hold us onto the track but I had a special responsibility. As the final man in the bob, our pilot explained it was my responsibility to ensure I sat up straight.

“Got it,” I replied. “Sit up straight.”

“Yes you must sit up straight,” he said, “because you will be buffeted by about 4 G’s of force in the final corners; and if you are leaning back, you may be sucked out of the rear of the bob.”

Duly noted, I would sit up straight.

We suited up, donning our helmets with me doing a passable impression of the Stig’s fatter nephew. I sat with my back straight and waited with nervous anticipation as the countdown started. As the timer hit 6, we were pushed off the edge and the nerves dissipated, I was confronted with a complete and utter sense of calm. We went down the straight picking up speed, before entering the first corner, a short left which switched back to the right.

Down we plunged through a section of track that seemed almost straight before sweeping into a long right that caused the bob to climb the wall. The world felt like it had been turned 90 degrees before we picked up more speed as we flew down the straight. Faster and faster we flew, walls of white rapidly filling my vision. Every corner greeting us with a roar as if the ice was protesting against the presence of this lumbering metal missile on its surface.

Soon we were in the final corners. They were an exhilarating long sweeping right before a sharp left that caused my head to buffet as I felt the full force of the lateral G’s. Gravity spat us out of the ice at full speed onto the long straight that ended the run. I was alive and giddy from the adrenalin rush. The entire trip had taken us 46.839 seconds, about six seconds slower than the pros. Which was not bad considering we didn’t have a running start.

As we climbed the hill back to the starting point, I shouted to our pilot over the roar of the truck exhaust: “So you get to do this everyday?”

“Yep,” he replied with a smile as broad as my own.

We circled back up to the top and unloaded the bob for the next run of tourists. Hell, I thought, as I walked away. If the Jamaicans can have a team, then so can the Australians. Now to find a bob and three more men.

NB: To see an actual run at Sigulda go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_RWJDLcj6Q&feature=player_embedded

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    Tim,

    How did you find Wien?

  2. Tim Ivins says:

    Hi Peter,
    I loved Wien, it is such a beautiful city and I have to say it was close to my favourite place on the entire trip. Ice Skating at night around the Rathaus was a breathtaking experience.

  3. I’m in – when do we start training?

  4. Tim Ivins says:

    As soon as we can hire Cool Runnings and find a disgraced former coach!

  5. John Butler says:

    Tim

    I’m about John Candy’s dimensions. And I’m a disgrace.

    Is that close enough?

  6. Brad Carr says:

    Tim, it’s a great experience – I did the same once at Lillehammer in Norway, the instructor informed us after that you can only do it so many times per month or year becuase of the cumulative strain it can oput on your neck. But it’s great for those of us who will only ever do it once.

    I’m off to Vancouver shortly for a few days of the games – will cheer on the Aussies there (there is an Aussie bobsleigh team, but not sure if we’ve got anyone in the luge or skeleton). Will update you first0hand in a couple of weeks

  7. Anne Fedorowytsch says:

    Sounds like an exhilarating experience Tim! If not slightly scary at the same time.

  8. Brad,

    Can you be our Winter Olympics correspondent?

    Bring Chris Lewis into the reports if you like.

  9. Definitely a little scary Anne, but hey it was much safer than:
    > Crossing the road in Riga,
    > visiting ‘Little Moscow’ where you are not recommended to travel after dark without a weapon,
    > visiting the flea markets, which was were every stolen item in Riga ended up for resale; and, worst of all > the food – a heart attack waiting to happen!

  10. Brad Carr says:

    Yes Paul, am planning on filing a couple of reports over my 5 days in Vancouver & Whistler. First up, I’m going to the Short-Track Speed-Skating on Sat 13th, hoping that there might be a 2nd Bradbury floating around there somehwere…

    There’s also a female Russian-turner-Aussie (can’t help but think of Greg Baum’s recent article in The Age on the success of the Australian Athletic Adoption Agency, or AAAA), who I’ll get to see in the 500m heats at least. I read today that Tatiana Borodulina is rated as a genuine medal prospect, by no less an authority than the Qantas inflight magazine…

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