The U.S. National Bobsled Team is pretty unique when compared to the roster of other winter Olympic sports. This team is unique because it is composed almost entirely of athletes who came from a different sport. Unlike speed skaters, skiers, and hockey players who have spent a lifetime perfecting one skill set, most of America's bobsledders transferred to the sport in their 20s, after a college career in a different sport. Some of them had never seen snow or ice before being invited to a development camp after trying out for the team.
The lack of early bobsled experience for our athletes may not come as a surprise to most Americans. Currently, there are only two bobsled facilities in the United States, and it's safe to say neither Utah nor New York - where those tracks are located - will be offering it as a subsidized sport anytime soon.
With those limitations, most young athletes who even have an interest in bobsled are left to choose from all of the other sports their school districts offer. And just like that, Team USA's bobsled coaches are left to pick and choose an Olympic team based on what they see on a grass field or a track.
Knowing that, is a wonder as to how the United States continues to compete on an international level when countries like Austria, Canada, Germany, Russia, and Switzerland have a lot more winter athletes with a lot more exposure to the support.
But, America's bobsled coaches figured something out decades ago that has helped win more medals in each new decade. They found that the muscles needed to push a bobsled down a hill faster are the same ones needed to compete in collegiate track and field, football, and almost every other major American sport.
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To push a bobsled, athletes use a combination of muscles in their legs, arms, and core. These muscles work together to generate the force needed to push the sled off the starting line and get it moving at high speeds. Additionally, the bobsledder must use their core muscles to maintain stability and balance while pushing the sled at a sprinter's pace.
Those muscles needed to push a half-ton "four-man" bobsled are the same ones need to do things like:
- hit home runs and steal bases on the softball diamond
- juke and then outrun the defense in a football game
- catch up to and tackle a star player in rugby or soccer
- anchor your high school track team's 4x100 relay
- or any number of things in other sports.
Despite never competing in bobsledding until they were almost finished with their college careers, the traits that are developed in other sports made the transition to winter sports so easy. That athleticism paired with a willingness to try something new and win every single day is what separated these athletes from the rest and earned them a spot with USA Bobsled & Skeleton.
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Many athletes on the National Bobsled team competed in track and field in several different events. Most of them were involved in hurdles, sprinting, and long jump. These skills perfectly translate to the bobsled team as the athletes are required to possess immense speed and lower-body strength to build up their momentum.
If you are unaware of how a bobsled run starts, it is easy to think of it like a track event. Like in the 100-meter dash, the team of four bobsledders starts in a crouched position and bursts into a sprint. They must propel the sled, which can weigh over 1,000 pounds as fast as they can for the first 50 meters. Then, they have to be comfortable shifting from a sprint to a jump to enter the bobsled without hardly missing a beat, which comes from their experience in hurdles and long jump.
Many people may question why skills involved in football are translated into competing for the bobsled team. However, as stated earlier, a bobsled is not exactly light - despite sliding across the ice on pairs of thin blades like ice skates.
The two-man bobsled will weigh around 400 pounds when empty, while the four-man sled can weigh a minimum of 500 pounds. During the race, a four-man bobsled sled weighs well over half a ton when the two pushers, pilot, and brakeman are in the sled. This immense weight requires the members of the bobsled team to possess a lot of power and explosive ability to push the bobsled quickly and efficiently.
Because a number of the athletes on the bobsled team are either track or football stars, a lot of the recruiting is done through collegiate competitions and combine events.
Furthermore, the recruiters may also look at the Summer Games to identify the top runners to compete for the Winter Olympics. Another highly recruited area is football and baseball combines, where athletes who posted impressive 40-yard-dash times may be recruited.
Getting into bobsled used to happen through word of mouth like this, as not many people athletes were directly recruited by a coach or scout for the national bobsled team. Now, with increased accessibility through events like the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Digital Combine, any athlete can upload tryout videos and be seen by and communicate with this Olympic organization.
While many athletic careers are done after the collegiate level, there are a few athletes who have found the opportunity to compete for the Olympic team in a sport they never really thought of.
This is one of the few Olympic sports that don’t require a lifetime of commitment to the sport. If a motivated athlete possesses the speed, strength, and competitive drive, they may compete and continue their athletic journey as a bobsledder.