Crashing in a Bobsleigh?
Crashing is of course something that every athlete wants to avoid, it is also something that every athlete will fear before, and indeed after their first crash. However there is a phrase in the sport that “You’re not a proper bobsledder until you’ve crashed”. Crashing in a bobsleigh is an experience like no other, its hard hitting, painful, and incredibly hot!!
As the sled “falls” off the track, there is a moment of weightlessness. To the athletes inside this is the warning sign that things are about to get nasty, very quick. After this the athletes will feel a harsh impact as the sled turns upside down and their bodies are slammed into the ice. Depending on where the sled is in the track, this can be relatively tame, or if crashed into another (bigger) corner, the impact can be incredibly hard and render people unconscious or concussed.
Once the sled is overturned, there is no turning it back over, the sled is also not going to stop until the bottom of the track, so its occupants have a couple of options, stay in, or “kick out”. Kicking out is only an option for the athlete at the very back of the sled, but it means that they eject themselves from the back. Though they are then free from the pains of remaining in the sled, they are then also alone on the ice without protection and still travelling incredibly fast. Some would argue that this is much more dangerous than remaining in the sled as people have caught their limbs in parts of the track and broken arms and legs.
Getting Burnt by ice
For the athletes that remain in the sled, there begins a long ride to the bottom of the track. Remember, the sled can crash at any point, so the bottom of the track might be only a matter of seconds away, or if you crash in corner 2 of a track like Lake Placid, the ride can take in excess of 90 seconds! In this time the athletes bodies are on the ice, at the speeds they are travelling at, the ice acts like tarmac and the friction is enough to skin someone to the bone. For this reason athletes are advised to wear a Kevlar or heat dispersing “burns vest” under their sliding suits, though some still choose not to!
Lastly, the sled is still going to bank around all of the corners, but without a driver steering any more, it will also fall off every corner, which will result in repeated impacts, especially for the push athletes. Often the driver is able to tuck themselves into the nose cone of the sled, and ride out the crash in relative comfort compared to the brakemen. Ironic considering who is at fault for a crash!