Elly and the bobbers
When you tell people you are going to Austria to do a run with members of the British Olympic Bobsleigh team, they generally give you one of the following two responses:
- You must be insane! There's no way in the world I'd ever do anything like that!
- You are so lucky! I've always wanted to do something like that!
As I waited in the snow at Igls for my moment to squeeze in behind John Jackson, driver of the GB four-man bob, and hurtle down the 1976 Olympic track at speeds of around 100km per hour, I wasn't entirely sure which category I fitted into myself.
We'd spent the day watching the finest bobbers in the world taking part in the final world cup event before next month's Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
We'd watched them preparing their lightweight fibreglass sleds, carefully fitting the steel runners, leaving them covered until the last minute with strips of loo paper, to avoid any contamination from bits of grit or greasy finger marks.
We'd tramped up and down alongside the track, watching in awe as the teams raced one by one down the 1200 metre long ice slide, seeming to hang suspended on the vertical walls, with nothing but speed and gravity holding them there.
And oddly, I didn't feel scared at all.
The closest I'd come to the sheer white-knuckle thrills of bobsleigh, like most normal human beings, was on summer trips with the kids to Legoland or Chessington World of Adventures. The Vampire at Chessington is a particular family favourite.
There's something about sitting strapped tightly into a reinforced, ergonomically designed safety seat, waiting with anticipation for the moment when you're hurled off the start and you twist and swoop, climb and plummet, for 90 seconds of sweaty palmed excitement.
But in bobsleigh, you're not strapped down, and crucially, the car you're riding in isn't attached to steel rails or an overhead cable.
Happily, I knew I was in safe hands. John Jackson (or Jacko, as he's known in the tight-knit bobsleigh community) is one of British Bobsleigh's top drivers - the man who sits at the front and guides the sled down the track. Like many in the sport, he has a background in the Royal Marines.
If anyone in Igls on Sunday was going to get me safely to the bottom, it was Jacko.
As we waited for the World Cup racing proper to start, coach Pete Gunn told me what to expect. The first bit of good news was that we weren't going to attempt a running start, as the pro's do. Just sit in and slide down. Also, no lycra body suits, so no danger of suffering a Gillian Cooke-style wardrobe malfunction.
I headed for the start, producer/cameraman Nick hot-footed it to the
finish. If I was a bit nervous, so was he - only one chance to capture the moment when we crossed the line. No second takes in this game.
Pinned to my ski jacket, underneath my crash helmet, was a mini-microphone to try and capture my thoughts on the way down. Whether any of them would be coherent was another matter.
Tension kicking in now. What did I have to remember? Head up or down?
Lean into the bends, keep strong, breathe... that ice looks a bit slippy, doesn't it?
Just like in Formula One, a red light, then a green - a push from behind - we're off. First corner, pretty smooth, not too quick - then speeding up, the rasping, rushing sound of the steel runners on the ice, body pressed into the bob, left, then right, then left, quicker and quicker all the time, through the Upper Labyrinth, then the great looping ice chute known as the Kreisel spits us out into the Lower Labyrinth, the ice walls just a blur now, can't speak, let alone articulate thoughts, and just when I think I can't bear it any longer, the final bend, into the tunnel, braking hard, a rush of snow, it's over.
"Was that you screaming all the way down?" says Ryan
I've never experienced an adrenalin rush like it, and if it felt fast, that's because it was. The quickest teams in Sunday's World Cup race were covering the 1200 metre course in just over 51 seconds. We did it in just over 56 seconds - and that was without the benefit of the push start.
A few people have told me I was brave to do it - plenty of others have questioned my sanity. I just feel incredibly privileged to have experienced the greatest thrill ride of them all.
Eleanor presents 5 live Sport on Thursday evenings on 5 live, and will
be covering the Winter Olympics on 5 live and 5 live sports extra.
Keep an eye here on the blog next week for a special video of Eleanor's bobsleigh adventure.
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