For all of you that are rooting for team USA at this year's Sochi Olympics, Sunday, February 16th is the day to watch history in the making. That's because it may be the first time since 1936, that the country's bobsleigh two-man team, may finally strike gold!
And it won't be just thanks to the skills of talented athletes like Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton, but also, because for the first time in 15 years, the US will be competing in a state-of-the art bobsled that has been designed by German automobile manufacturer, BMW.
The partnership between the USA bobsleigh team and BMW began in 2011, when the car manufacturer signed up as an Olympics sponsor. In addition to the financial support, they also offered to lend their design prowess to the bobsled team. The company picked the two-man team because it was suited to their expertise in sports-car building. Besides, the four-man team, which has won several medals, already has help from NASCAR's Geoff Bodine.
Michael Scully, a designer for BMW was selected for this fun assignment. He embarked on the redesign by first experiencing for himself, what it feels like to race down the icy twisted bobsled track at a speed exceeding 70 miles per hour!
The former race car driver and slalom-racing champion was astounded by the level of force and violence he experienced during his ride down.
Scully later admitted that he was so terrified, he wondered if he would emerge from it alive!
But it gave him a true appreciation of what the athletes go through and more importantly, think of various ways to make the experience less traumatizing by reducing the vibration, drag, etc. Scully felt that taking away all the unnecessary traits that caused the chaos would result in a ride that was not only smoother, but also, more rewarding for the athletes.
Scully began with rough pencil sketches, which besides the most efficient design also had to incorporate Olympic Bobsleigh Federation requirements about the equipment's weight, height, width etc. It was not easy. While tweaking different areas of the sled, Scully found out that with every solution, came an unexpected hurdle. For example, he had initially thought he could reduce drag, which was of utmost importance, by simply making a smaller bobsled. This would ensure that the weight was evenly redistributed. However, while this helped with drag, it resulted in a sled that had a hard time maneuvering which meant that the team would be unable to rapidly change direction, as they came down the curvy slope.
But he persevered. Once the design was ready, Michael and his team used the latest technology that included 3-D printers, to create prototypes of the bobsled. Even the wind tunnel testing used to gauge the drag and airflow was done in a modified digital form, which proved to be more effective since it could be done to reflect bobsleds that were constantly changing directions, rather than moving in a straight line.
The designer and his team went through 147 prototypes, but it was well-worth it. The end result as you will see tomorrow, is a slick piece of equipment built of super-light carbon fiber, that is shorter and much more technologically advanced than anything the athletes have ever used. Women's Olympic hopeful Elana Myers, likens the old ones to 'tanks' that were built to withstand crashes but not necessarily move as quick. The new bobsleds inside which she will be competing in at Sochi are built for speed - an important element in a race where all it takes to win is saving hundredths, and sometimes even thousandths of a second.
The bobsleds have already won the men's team a gold at the 2012 World Championships held in Lake Placid, New York. Hopefully, they will now help the US bring home the Olympic gold too! Michael Scully for one can't wait to see how it all turns out!
Sources: cbsnews.com, hollywoodreporter.com, globalpost.com, latimes.com