When most people picture bobsled from the Winter Olympics or from the film “Cool Runnings,” they usually see four people, or at least two, vigorously pushing a sled and then leaping in before racing down an icy course.
But in monobob, an event making its Olympic debut at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, one sledder does it all: push, leap and drive. And at this year’s Games, every one of the competitors will be a woman.
Men, of course, have been zipping down the bobsled track at the Olympics since 1924, first in four-man sleds and, since 1932, in two-man teams as well. It took until 2002 for women to get a two-person event, and ever since, athletes and their supporters have been campaigning for a second.
But rather than adding the four-person sled as a medal event for women, the International Olympic Committee has chosen monobob instead. Men will continue to race in only two- and four-person sleds.
The event is one of seven additions to the Olympics program for 2022 and the only one of the group that will be contested only by women.
Also being added are freestyle skiing big air jumping events for men and women (big air was already on the program for snowboarders) and a handful of mixed-gender classifications: a snowboard cross relay, a short-track speedskating relay, and team events in ski jumping and freestyle skiing aerials.
Monobob, however, may get the most attention. The event was appealing to the IOC in many ways, but particularly because of its competitive balance. The cost of entry for the smaller sleds — a monobob might cost about $15,000, while a two-person is more like $70,000 — and the need for only a single driver has democratized results: Brazil and Jamaica won medals at last season’s World Cup, for example, and a Cambodian recorded a top-10 finish.
In addition, all monobob sleds will come from the same manufacturer, equalizing in part the technological advantages that wealthy nations have long enjoyed. In all the years of bobsled at the Games, only Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Canada and Italy have won more than one gold medal.
Elana Meyers Taylor, a veteran American driver, has two silvers and a bronze at three Olympics in two-person bobsled. Now she is hoping to add a solo medal to her trophy case. Although no American is yet fully qualified for the team, Meyers Taylor is in a strong position to return to the Games in the new event.
The U.S. also has a strong contender in Kaillie Humphries, gold medalist for Canada at the last two Olympics and the reigning world champion in monobob and two-woman. She became a U.S. citizen this week.
Drivers often learn in a monobob, which can be used as a development sled, but Meyers Taylor had never driven one until last January.
“There’s a steep learning curve,” she said. “They can skid out; they just don’t have the weight, the speed. They don’t glue to the curb the way a two-man does. They’re a ton more skittish.”
The monobobs complete a bobsled course roughly 2 seconds slower than a two-person bob. “The less weight you have, the slower you’re going to go,” Meyers Taylor said.
Although every team has a sled from the same manufacturer, they are not identical. The aerodynamics have to stay the same, but teams can make small modifications to gain an edge. “It’s how you repair them, how you set up the bob,” Meyers Taylor said.
Meyers Taylor and other international sledders recently spent three weeks testing the Beijing track that will host the Olympics. There were only two crashes in that time, Meyers Taylor said.
“But the course is challenging to be fast on,” she said. “It’s a very tricky track. On the first two curves, you can lose a lot of time.”
Despite being a potential medal contender in both women’s events, Meyers Taylor said she had mixed feelings about monobob’s addition. Asked her favorite event, she replied with certainty, “Four-man. I have a huge preference for four-man.”
“We were fighting for four-man,” Meyers Taylor said. “Part of the draw of bobsled is the team aspect of it.”
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