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>Skeleton Luge: we try-out for the British Olympic Team (by Mark Warrender)

Mark Warrender (a.k.a. Mr. Cool) and Dr. Neil Farrow put away their streetluges for a weekend and set sail for Bath University to have a go at their new Bob Skeleton practice track. That's the ice version of the luge where the racers go HEAD FIRST!

Here's Mark Warrenders report...

 

It sounded crazy enough and at only £2.50 I thought it was a snip. We took a day off for the Queen and headed down, meeting outside a café for 10 a.m. We were led off by a guy called Paul to the lecture theatre. After filling out various forms we had the speech from Paul. That's where I started to feel like I'd been shafted. He told us about Skeleton and it's origins, the fact it's an Olympic sport and that they were doing talent trials that day for the British Olympic team! That part sounded cool, the next part didn't! Skeleton (apparently) is about commitment, 110% dedication and joining the Olympiad at all costs - dedicating 4 years of your life. I just wanted to have a go for the shit of it.
We would be subjected to a series of sprint tests to assess our potential as 'Sliders' (sounds like a cheesy US Sci-Fi to me!). Timed running trials and a go on a mock up sled to assess our technique. Sprinters have the advantage here, as the fastest 6 starters had the fastest 6 course times at the last Olympics. (Nothing to do with rider skill then??).
Everyone got into their track suits and we headed out to the track. The warm up we were taken through was knackering, and I was beginning to wish I'd never gone at this point. Timing gear was set up along the back straight, and we were all timed across a 30 and 50 metre sprint. Best 2 times of 3 goes, with another 2 runs available if you wanted. I got the second fastest time which I was quite pleased with, Neil kept muttering something about 10 mile races and sprinting being for poofs.
We were then led off to the mockup, which was seriously impressive when we got there. A tarmac incline with the exact dimensions of the Olympic course starts. There was a Skeleton on a set of rails that you could run, push and ride to the bottom, where there was an uphill incline to slow you down. A bungee cord arrangement then fired you backwards towards the start.
I would guess the speed at around 30 MPH which felt fast as I only had a t-shirt on, no leathers. We did have helmets though. This was fun but there was no steering, you could just feel the sled bumping from side to side between the rails. I'm sure the real thing is much better and I'd love to have a go, but we're still waiting to be contacted by the BBSKA. I guess that means we're shit, or they sussed us out as being there for a laugh and not having Olympic level commitment. (What happened to Sport for all?).
In short I would draw the following conclusions from my excursion. Skeleton luges have no brakes as you don't need them, the course guides you (so I'm told). They don't race head to head, just against the clock. To get in you have to be committed 110% and a brilliant sprinter. In my book it's all a bit too sanitised, not enough danger. Excitement maybe, but not something you can easily share with someone or even experience yourself - perhaps a bit elitist in that respect. If I'm invited to the ice trials I'll be there like a shot, but if not this is one sport I'll have to pass on. Highlight of the day? Kinny's bum - that's one of the (female) members of the British team. There's a picture enclosed but it in no way does it justice.
 
What is Bob Skeleton?

Bob skeleton is where a sport where athletes race down a sloped ice track on a small sled (i.e. a 'skeleton'). Unlike luge, the Bob Skeleton racers are positioned head first and steer by leaning, moving their head from side to side or dragging a toe on the ice. Skeletons do not have any brakes or suspension and with top speeds exceeding 80 mph, this is not a sport for the timid. As with all gravity sports making a good start is vital and thus this sport favours those with a strong sprinting abilities.