What do Bobsleigh Athletes Wear?
Everyone knows the iconic image of a four man bobsleigh team, lines up all in their skin tight suits, whether this is from Cool Runnings, or from watching the sport itself. But there is more than meets the eye to what a bobsleigh athlete wears. Interestingly, there are only a couple of presiding rules to what an athlete is allowed to wear, but of course, most will wear much more than that.
Bobsleigh Skin Tight Suit
These can be made from numerous different materials, and this is mostly governed by what is available. Contrary to common belief, most race suits (also known as skin suits) offer no warmth or protection from the elements. They are usually standard stretchy material like Lycra or similar. This means that almost all athletes are at the mercy of the cold they compete in. Most athletes will therefore elect to approach the start line in a full set of jackets and other warm weather gear, and then just before they need to push, they will remove this and be out in the cold!
The reason for the race suits is so that all of the athletes are as aerodynamic as possible. A huge amount of research goes into designing the sled to make it as fast through the air as it possibly can be, so it makes sense for the athletes to be the same. Their aerodynamic profile is of course important as the sled descends the track, but much like sprinters, the tight material creates as little resistance as possible during the push
These are a part of the bobsleigh equipment spectators will never see, and many don’t know they are worn. When a bobsleigh crashes, even though it is on ice, there is a huge amount of friction created, all of which is on the backs and shoulders of the athletes in the sled. For this reason, all athletes are advised to wear what is known as a “burns vest” so protect from these burns.
The friction can be so bad that without one of these vests it can tear the skin right down to the bone of the shoulder. However, these vests are actually completely optional! Athletes will sometimes risk their bodies in order to not exceed the weight limit and not wear a burns vest. Though this is incredibly dangerous and possibly carries with it the greatest risk of serious injury in the sport.
When pushing the sled at the start of a race, of course all the athletes need grip. However the spikes worn are not standard running spikes. Standard sprinting spikes would not penetrate the ice nearly enough to be able to hold the amount of force being exerted by the athletes. Instead bobsleigh (and skeleton) athletes wear a specialised pair of spikes with 200+ individual 1.5mm spikes on the underneath. Known as “brush spikes” these serve to create enough grip for the athletes to run and push at top speed without any slipping! Though, being specialist equipment a new pair of spikes can be as much as £250!
A bobsleigh helmet is not unlike a regular motorbike helmet. In fact, one of the few rules on equipment is that the helmets used must be a standard helmet without any modifications. This means that teams cannot create aerodynamic helmets like one might see in cycling, instead it must be a stock helmet. All helmets used must have at least one of the major international safety certificates, and not have any significant damage. In a lot of cases this means that if a helmet is used in a crash, that it cannot be used again as it would no longer meet the mandatory safety requirements.
The vast majority of helmets used are fastened with a “double D” loop as opposed to a clip, as some athletes are worried that a clip may rattle loose during the very bumpy and hectic ride. Similarly drivers will often tape down their visors as these can shake themselves open and effectively blind the driver with the incoming wind!