The Expert: What I Know About … Bobsledding

The Edmonton native began his athletic career in track and field, until his cousin introduced him to bobsledding in 1989

Who: Pierre Lueders

Age: 40

Experience: The Edmonton native began his athletic career in track and field, until his cousin introduced him to bobsledding in 1989; for a year, he was a brakeman, sitting behind the driver; in order to experience the incredible speeds from the front of the sled, he trained as a driver with two-man and four-man bobsled teams; he collected 88 medals from the World Cup, plus eight World Championship and two Olympic medals, including gold at the 1998 Nagano Games; he is now a bobsled coach in Calgary, sharing with others what he learned from his impressive career.

– “The guy in the front has the responsibility of driving down the hill and putting teams together. It’s not just about being an athlete; it’s like being a part-time manager. There are many aspects of bobsledding beyond just sliding down a hill.”

– “Nagano was my second Olympics. Many young athletes dream of going to the Olympics and winning a medal, and I was no different. It was a close race – we tied [for the gold] with a team from Italy, which was the first time in history that had happened.”

– “When you’re in the sled, you experience a lot of G-force. If you’re 100 kilograms and you go through a corner where there are four Gs, you’re going to have 400 kilograms of pressure on your body.”

– “There’s a lot of training involved, in the form of lifting weights, running and being conditioned [to help compensate for the force]. Tractor-tire flipping, just to make the body stronger, is also one of the techniques I’ve used to train.”

– “It’s not like a roller coaster, where it feels like your stomach has dropped or you feel light. In bobsledding it’s completely different. When you go past a corner, it feels like someone is sitting on your back. Maybe even two or three people.”

– “It takes a while after a race to calm down, to get back to a normal state of being – there’s a lot of adrenalin surging through your body. Whether it’s Olympics or a World Championship, there’s always a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and euphoria.”

– “We’ve created some interest and mystery surrounding some bobsled designs. And if other teams are thinking about you, they’re not thinking about themselves. It’s a bit of a psychological thing. We kept the Whistler Bomber [the bobsled design from the 2010 Olympics] under covers and tarps to create some mystery.”

– “We did extensive testing in Ottawa at the National Research Council, where we had our sleds in the wind tunnel, and certain aerodynamic designs were better than others. We sat on the sled in the tunnel that has a giant fan – the walls simulate the walls of the track, and the sensors and measuring devices determine how much force is on the sled and how much drag. We worked on different seating positions to see if that reduced the drag and made little changes to the sled, and with every change, they can measure the amount of drag on the sled. The real, solid test is sliding down a hill and competing with other teams.”

– “In high school, I didn’t take any physics classes at all. My knowledge was quite limited. Even now, I don’t really qualify to be a physicist. But you don’t need to be a mathematician to drive a sled.”

– “The sport has become more competitive and faster. As the sport grows, the [tracks and bobsled designs] adapt. Some of the tracks used in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are obsolete. The bobsled designs have become faster and safer – the materials are much stronger and more resilient.”

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