Bob a job for Ski Sunday team
What happens when you give an Olympic ski racer, an Olympic skeleton champion and a former professional snowboarder a shove at the top of a bobsleigh track?
Sore backs, shredded nerves and bruised egos, as Ski Sunday discovered when it set its presenters the terrifying challenge for the current season of BBC Two's winter sports magazine.
Regular front men Graham Bell, who represented Great Britain at five Winter Olympics, and Ed Leigh, who plied his trade as a snowboarder for five years, met up with Amy Williams at the Olympic bobsleigh track in St Moritz in Switzerland earlier this month.Alien experience
Williams, who won gold in skeleton at the 2010 winter games but retired from the sport last year, appears as a guest presenter during the series.
End Quote Ed Leigh Presenter, Ski Sunday
There was disbelief that anyone would let you go that fast in that dangerous piece of equipment on your own at the first attempt. ”
'Amy had never done bobsleighing before and, surprisingly, was very nervous,' Leigh tells Ariel. 'It was so alien to her.'
Where skeleton is face-first tobogganing down ice tracks at breakneck speeds, bobsleighing is done in a seated position.
'I've done skeleton before,' says Leigh. 'It's a lie-down sledge, with a low centre of gravity, and it feels like it fits in the track. The bobsleigh weighs so much more and doesn't feel like it fits in the track. My head was just two or three inches from the wall.'
The trio was first taken down the course together in a taxi bob, with an experienced driver. Bell - the biggest of the three - was positioned behind the driver, Leigh behind him and Williams in the brake position.Most g-force
'Amy was the fourth man, because of her experience,' explains Leigh. 'You experience the most g-force the further back in the sled you go.'
So where Bell reached the bottom with a whoop and a 'that was good fun', Williams, who already suffers from a bad back, was less enthusiastic. 'She is the slightest of the three and yet was exposed to the most g-force - around five times her body weight,' says a sympathetic Leigh. 'She couldn't lift her head and went down with her head between her knees.'
This was the warm-up. After a five-minute brief, the presenters were put in mono bobs and invited to descend alone from three quarters of the way up.
'I couldn't believe they'd left us in control that soon,' admits Leigh. 'We were told that the sledge knows the way. You steer via two handles at the front, but steering is very delicate - if you oversteer you roll the bob.'The fastest
They travelled at speeds of around 115km an hour. 'Graham bumped into the walls all the way down. I had a go at steering out of turns, but then decided to let the sled take over,' says Leigh, who clocked the fastest time. 'I'm not massively competitive, unless it's against Graham. He had the weight advantage so it must have been down to my superior skill.'
He praises the show's newcomer Williams, who also attempted speed skating and learnt to ski for the show. 'Graham took her up the hill and within two hours she'd gone from total beginner to doing parallel turns,' he marvels. 'It was one of the most impressive things I've seen. She's done such a good job on the programme - I think she'll be back next year.'
Meanwhile, he has mixed feelings about the bob.
'It was like being shot out of a really long cannon,' Leigh reflects. 'There was disbelief that anyone would let you go that fast in that dangerous a piece of equipment on your own at the first attempt. At the same time, it was the most exhilarating thing I've ever done.'
- Ski Sunday, BBC Two, Sunday January 27; the bobsleigh feature is in the February 3 edition