Whizzing down an icy track is a sleek steel bobsled, at speeds fast enough to knock the average person out. But unlike at past Olympics, where two or four people clamored into their vehicles, a lone rider navigates her bobsled around slippery bends.
Monobob, one of seven new programs at the Beijing Winter Olympics, is an event entirely made for women to increase their participation in a heavily male-dominated sport. Though men have been competing in four-person and two-person bobsledding competitions since 1924 and 1932, respectively, the two-woman event was only added in 2002.
Though much of the basics remain the same for monobob, the responsibilities of driving, pushing, and braking are now on the shoulders of a single person. And naturally, the odds against not crashing are suddenly higher.
Margot Boch, a 22-year-old French bobsledder, will be competing in both the two-woman and monobob events scheduled on the third week of the Games. Given that she’s the pilot—the person who drives the sled—in the two-person bobsledding program, she said it was a natural decision to compete in monobob, too.
The feeling of driving a bobsled down the track is nothing short of pure exhilaration—it almost feels like “flying,” she told VICE.
“There’s a lot of different feelings—there’s adrenaline, there’s speed, the pressure, and it’s always a bit stressful, because we know that we can always crash, so it’s really fun,” she said.
Sleds for the monobob event weigh about 162 kilograms (357 pounds), about the same as a two-person sled. Given that Boch has to push her vehicle entirely on her own, she’s had to increase her weightlifting training and sprint programs, which help her launch the sled at the beginning of the race to get it sliding down the track.
“Compared to the first year, I lift like two times heavier,” she said. But her team still helps her move her sled before each race, she added.
To drive the monobob, Boch uses the sled’s pulley system. If she pulls to the left, the bobsled veers left, and vice versa. She said that during the ride, “you are like 90 degrees like this (she tilts her head sideways), so your head is on the side and you see everything a bit differently than when you work in the track, or next to the track.” To stop her vehicle at the end of her track, she pulls down on a brake that sits behind her in the bobsled.
Though bobsledding is usually a team sport, Boch said she enjoys the chance to compete alone. “Everything is on my shoulders, so that’s now my problem,” she said.
In addition to being an all-women’s program, the monobob event will also require all competing athletes to use bobsleds made by the same manufacturer, provided by the International Olympic Committee.
This gives nations that can’t afford high-tech sleds equal footing in terms of equipment, which is said to heavily affect an athlete’s race. Some top-range bobsleds can cost upwards of $285,000, whereas a monobob could cost $15,000.
Twenty athletes will compete in Beijing’s monobob event, where Boch said she may be wearing red, a lucky color for her.
“My family also does it [wear red], and now everyone on the team is also doing it,” she said.