The One-Woman Glories of Monobob, the Olympics’ Newest Sport

This week in Winter Olympics pleasure brings not simply grace, class, scandal, grandpa-focussed finger-pointing, an ever-more-unnerving geopolitical mood, hockey shoot-outs, and the quiet ongoing dominance of Norway, however a brand new frontier in girls’s bobsled, which concludes Saturday, with the medal occasion within the two-person sled competitors. Final weekend, viewers bought higher acquainted with its stars, by way of a brand new Olympic occasion: monobob. Because it approached, NBC did its cheerful finest not solely to psych us up for monobob however to inform us what it was. “A new bobsled event, called the monobob!” the tireless sports activities broadcaster Mike Tirico informed viewers. “It’s one athlete, in a sled.” “Allow us to introduce you to monobob, where the driver becomes the brakeman!” the previous bobsledder Bree Schaaf mentioned, brightly, as the primary warmth started. After the Tremendous Bowl, NBC moved swiftly from the confetti bombs and Gatorade sneak-ups to the Yanqing Nationwide Sliding Centre, the place girls donned helmets and bought right down to enterprise.

As on different surfaces, gender inequity has lengthy prevailed on the world’s ice tracks. Bobsled, a part of the Winter Olympics since they started, in 1924, didn’t embody girls’s occasions till 2002, and there have been fewer of them: males compete in four- and two-person bobsleds, however girls competed solely in two-person ones. (Each athletes push the sled; then one works the brakes whereas the opposite drives.) The occasion disparity, owing partially to a perception that bobsledding was too heavy and harmful for ladies, resulted not simply in additional medals for males however in additional males taking part over all. The early pioneer Katharin Dewey, the granddaughter of the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, was on a combined crew within the 1940 U.S. Championships; in 2002, at that first Olympic girls’s bobsledding occasion, Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers gained gold for the U.S., making Flowers the first Black athlete to win gold in any Winter Olympics. The sport’s present stars, the formidable Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor, have additionally competed in males’s bobsledding occasions, whereas advocating for expanded competitors alternatives for ladies. It’s been robust going—not not like pushing a three-hundred-and-sixty-five-pound sled whereas sprinting in ice cleats—however they’ve prevailed. The consequence: monobob, during which one girl does all of the work herself.

Bobsledding, which happens in an ice chute, like different sliding sports activities—luge, skeleton—developed within the late nineteenth century amongst rich lodgers at a ski resort in St. Moritz. That is one cause why many people don’t fairly get it. We would ski or skate; we’re much less more likely to luge, and bobsledding isn’t very similar to what we do in a toboggan. It’s recognized principally as a part of the Olympics, when, each 4 years, we observe feats of skillful snow-and-ice audacity on TV. Some Winter Olympic occasions may be enhanced by skilled clarification, à la Steve Kornacki on aerials; others, as when the lovebird ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates skated to Daft Punk, are finest loved as artwork. When filmed from overhead, curling, which includes a variety of scrabbling round a bull’s-eye, seems like some form of oversized-office-supplies ballet; biathlon, for my part, has some explaining to do. Whereas watching it final week—and excitedly telling a good friend what its two absurd parts are—I made a decision that someone ought to body a film round it: a crew of the world’s finest sharpshooting cross-country skiers, rifles strapped to their backs, enlisted for snowy derring-do. However this movie has been made: recall “For Your Eyes Only,” during which James Bond, within the Alps, tangles with an Olympic biathlete, a lusty determine skater, bobsledders, ski-jumpers, and a snow motorbike gang, on an ice observe.

Monobob, too, lends itself to vivid imaginings. For one factor, it’s mysterious: for a lot of the occasion, the athlete’s physique is basically obscured, all helmet and automotive. We see her most in the beginning, whereas she’s pushing the sled at high pace as a way to leap into it. This half takes unimaginable energy—coaching movies present Meyers Taylor, whom commentators have known as one of many U.S. delegation’s bodily strongest athletes, hoisting comically monumental barbells. Having gathered a head of steam, the racer jumps into the sled, which resembles a rogue bumper automotive or a really subtle go-kart. (For the Individuals, it’s star-spangled, like Evel Knievel’s jumpsuit.) Inside, helmeted and intent, she focusses on optimum rocketing and veering, marshalling forces of management in order to not slide up partitions whereas whipping round a nook, at as much as seventy-five miles per hour. In monobob, the dearth of an additional individual makes the sled tougher to regulate. It’s all mini race automotive on ice, sliding to a relaxed, stage end, the comedown just like the disorienting normalcy on the finish of a curler coaster.

Twenty members from sixteen nations competed in monobob’s début. These included Huai Mingming, of China, who final 12 months sang a music known as “Burning Snowflake” on a nationally televised Lunar New 12 months broadcast, and bobsledders from Jamaica, South Korea, Germany, and Ukraine. However the principle suspense—the principle occasion, actually—concerned Canada, the USA, and people two high rivals, Humphries and Meyers Taylor, who’ve dominated in Olympic and world competitions, and who’ve overcome extra than simply bobsled-medal inequities. Humphries, thirty-six, represented Canada till not too long ago; after the 2018 Olympics, she accused her former coach of harassment and abuse, then left the crew. (The coach denied the allegations.) She turned an American citizen two months in the past—and a teammate of Meyers Taylor, her longtime rival and good friend. Meyers Taylor, thirty-seven, had travelled to Beijing along with her husband and their toddler, Nico, who has Down syndrome; there, she examined constructive for COVID-19 and needed to quarantine in a lodge for twelve days, forgoing the Opening Ceremony, at which she’d been slated to be a flag bearer for the U.S. As a substitute of coaching usually, on the ice observe, she stayed in, lifting these big barbells.

She emerged on Saturday trying decided. She had an excellent run, with just a few imperfections: “A huge skid!” Schaaf cried out after one of many turns. That day, zooming alongside in her star-spangled automotive, she completed fourth. However, on Sunday, she got here again with a vengeance, simply surpassing most of her rivals. Humphries gained the gold, Meyers Taylor gained the silver, and so they brandished large American flags collectively, singing the nationwide anthem aspect by aspect on the rostrum. On Friday, they’ll compete as rivals and teammates once more, maybe for the final time, with assist from a pusher-brakeperson. Every shall be driving her personal sled.

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