The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing China was officially christened last Friday (February 4th) despite there being two days of competition preceding the opening ceremony. An Olympics in Beijing might sound familiar but this just over two-week long event is far removed from the big deal it’s summer counterparts is. In typical track and field that’s associated with the Olympics, speed is the order of the day, or simply being the best. That much remains the same here, especially for our Bobsleigh contingent and our one and only skier, but the way they do that is a bit more complicated than a foot race.
The Bobsleigh event (also called Bobsled) is one of three sliding events at the Winter Games; the others being Luge and Skeleton. They’re called “sliding” events because that’s literally what competitors do – athletes competing Bobsleigh, Luge or Skeleton slide down an iced track with steep, banked corners and long narrow straits on a sleigh/sled at great speed. Bobsleigh is the fastest of the three, the other two are far riskier though.
The Bobsleigh event is divided into a women’s and men’s section, and both have two variations of the sport. On the men’s side there are the 2-man and the 4-man events. The athletes for Jamaica’s 2-man team are Shanwayne Stephens and Nimrod Turgott, meanwhile Rolando Reid and Ashley Watson complete the quartet for the 4-man event.
The event begins with the teams at the top of an inclined course, they get a running start to push the sleigh along for about 50 metres and then jump in. After which, the driver (the first to jump in) stirs using the two front skis as the sled flies down the track being propelled only by gravity. He would be trying to get the sleigh following the optimal path to achieve maximum speed – the same principle as a “racing line” in motorsports. The other riders would assist in manoeuvring the course by shifting the weight of their body around to compensate for the vast cornering speeds. The man at the back (typically the last to jump on) is known as the brakeman, as he controls the sleigh’s brakes which are located at the back.
Every team gets four legal runs of the course, and the team with the best combined times – i.e, quickest time when all four runs are added after, wins. `For simple context, last edition’s gold medalists (double gold for Canada and Germany with no silver awarded) was won in a time of 3:16.86. For individual runs in the 2-man event, anything over 50 seconds is slow and anything approaching the lower end of 49 seconds is competitive. Meanwhile in the 4-man runs, that range is about half a second faster. So between 49 and 48 seconds is what you should look out for from the Jamaican team.
Representing Jamaica in the women’s section is Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, this is actually her third Olympics but only her second time representing Jamaica. The New Jersey native represented the USA in 2014 before switching allegiances in favour of her father’s homeland. Having made history last time out by competing in the 2-woman Bobsleigh event in 2018 with Summer Olympian turn Winter specialist, Carrie Russell, she became part of the country’s first women bobsleigh team at the Games. Fenlator-Victorian returns this year as the only woman on the team to compete in the Winter Olympics’ inaugural Women’s Monobob event where she’s the only person operating the sleigh.
And finally, Jamaica’s sixth representative, Benjamin Alexander is another history maker. The London-born Alexander qualified for Alpine Skiing and when he takes to the slopes in Beijing, he will cement his place as the first ever skiing Olympian in Jamaica’s history. Alexander just made the qualification standard in January and he has set his sights on creating a legacy when he competes in the Giant Slalom event.
In truth, Alpine Skiing is an umbrella term that accounts for six individual events. There is the Downhill event, the three variations of slaloms – Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super G[iant] Slalom – as well as the Alpine Combined and the Mixed Team event. The Downhill event is a straightforward speed run down the snowy sloped course. The slaloms all have gates that competitors need to go through to gain points as they ski downhill. There are penalties for running too close to or altogether missing the gates. The Slalom is speedy with sharp fast turns in between the gates. The Giant and Super G are basically the same except it’s a much longer course than the Slalom and gates are wider apart with smoother but more technical turns. Combined, as the name suggests, combines elements of the downhill and different slaloms.
Similar to the Bobsleigh, athletes have a series of runs which have their times added together with the fastest combined times deciding the winners. In this event, a single run is a little over a minute long, with competitive times dipping below one minute and ten seconds, which means a final time under two minutes and twenty seconds usually gets you in the top ten.
Jamaica has never medalled at the Winter Olympic Games but we’ve had plenty of experience doing so in an event with a similar name in the same city. Having already made history by simply qualifying and further competing, there’s no pressure to add more but as the athletes dream of glory, there will be a nation behind them.