Pengilly's 85mph bob skeleton
by Drew Savage
Somerset may not have an abundance of world-class athletes, but bob skeleton slider Adam Pengilly from Creech St Michael certainly qualifies. He is now the world silver medallist.
Adam Pengilly has his eyes on Winter Olympic Gold
Bob skeleton slider Adam Pengilly trains at the University of Bath's training facility along with the rest of the GB skeleton team.
The purpose-built push start facility is about 100m in length and is also used by the British bobsleigh team.
The profile of the track matches the permanent ice courses in Europe and North America. The first 15m has a slight gradient of two degrees which then drops away much steeper as it goes down the hill.
Bob skeleton sliders need a combination of athletic ability and skill - to push themselves off to a good start, and then drive down the course as smoothly as possible.
The equipment only makes up 15 or 20 per cent of the total performance, but Adam says that can make all the difference.
"Everyone's got good sleds at my level. One of my team-mates is a very good engineer and I think he's confident that his sled is the best in the world, which is great for him and not so good for the rest of us!"
Professional sleds cost around £4,500
What is bob skeleton?
The sport really caught the eye of the UK public at the 2002 Winter Olympics, when Alex Coomber won a bronze medal for the GB team in the women's competition.
It takes place on the same tracks as bobsleigh and luge - the difference being that competitors lie on their stomachs on sleds and go down the course head first at speeds of up to 85mph.
"It's not really like anything else I've ever done in my life," said Pengilly. "You experience G-forces of up to five G's going round some of the big corners, your chin's just off the ice, and the vision's not brilliant. It's a very exhilarating run."
And at that kind of speed, there's very little thinking time "just because your head's so close to the ice".
"You can imagine what it's like going along a motorway at 85 miles an hour. Imagine that, and not in a straight line, and with your head where one of the wheels are."
The Quantock Hills
It all started on the Quantocks
Although there's a lot more to the sport of bob skeleton than going down a hill on a tin tray, that's exactly how the young Adam Pengilly started out: sledging with his father on the Quantock Hills.
He became interested in bobsleigh at the age of 13, after seeing Blue Peter presenter Yvette Fielding having a go. But he didn't expect to get involved himself until a lucky coincidence at Richard Huish College in Taunton, three years later.
"My P.E. teacher, who started at the same time as me, was a bobsleigher. He would coach me a bit, and I said I'd love to have a go."
The training track is 100m long
One thing led to another and Adam ended up as part of the Great Britain team in the Europa Cup. And despite ending up in hospital with a hole in his lung after a serious crash, he bounced back to enjoy four years of bobsleigh competition before taking up the skeleton.
The learning curve
His experience of travelling around the international bobsleigh circuit helped Adam cross over to the skeleton. But the skills required to drive a skeleton sled still had to be learned from scratch, and it's not an easy process.
"Some who are now quite good started off dreadfully, with black and blue bruises all the way down their arms and shoulders. I was not quite that bad but not too far off - I certainly wasn't a natural the first couple of weeks."
last updated: 02/03/2009 at 16:01