In a sport where hundredths of a second decide who wins a medal, BMW Design Works Creative Director Michael Scully and his team of designers were running the race of their lives to ready a finely-tuned 375-pound machine in time for the Sochi Winter Oympics in February.
“We had tight defined time frames to get a brand new sled of Olympic caliber ready for the Games,” said Scully in this documentary.
The first of three prototypes was trialed by bobsled athletes in December 2012. Steve Holcomb, the infamous Night Train driver who piloted a four-man sled to Olympic gold in Vancouver, was the defacto guinea pig at first. Relying on his 15 years of bobsled driving, Holcomb tested this working model on American tracks, and was quick to point out problems with steering, maneuverability, and fit. Holcomb reflected, “I had no idea if the sled would even make it to the bottom.”
Relying on feedback from Holcomb, as well as other male and female drivers and pushers, BMW redesigned its third prototype during last year’s summer months – focusing on the two-man sled design. "Time was the enemy with deadlines and milestones to be met. It was a very intense period,” said Scully, who had to prepare this newest model in time for the bobsled federation’s team selection trials in October at Park City, UT.
At a USOC Media Summit in late September, the normally unflappable Holcomb shared frustration and worry. Not knowing what the new design would bring, Holcomb admitted, “It would be nice to have a year under our belt to test it and work out the bugs. But, we don’t have that and we have got to work with what we got. Fortunately we have a great team of engineers.”
BMW Sleds Tested
Several drivers tested not only this new prototype, but also their nerves – for sled decisions and performances at the Park City track could make or break their Olympic dreams. In one film segment, Vancouver Olympics bronze medalist Elana Meyers said, “My heart was beating out of my chest,” about the chance to trial the sleek, shiny, and super-tech sled. Once more, the stressed athletes were not shy about dishing out advice for BMW to then fine-tune such elements as the steering mechanism, and interior set-up.
With just weeks to go before the late November start of the make-or-break FIBT World Cup season, a few drivers traveled to Sochi, Russia for one last chance to test out the BMW sleds on the same labyrinth-like track to be used at the Winter Olympics.
Here, decisions were solidified to use the BMW sled – versus reverting to their legacy sleds used in past seasons. Further, the four-man teams confirmed their use of sleds by other manufacturers which they have been long accustomed too. For example, Holcomb has chosen an improved version of the Vancouver gold medal sled, aptly named “Night Train 2,” as produced by NASCAR legend Geoff Bodine’s firm.
Success at the Start
Confident that they made the right decision, all three men’s and women’s tandems rode these eye-catching BMW marvels all the way to the podium at the three FIBT Viessmann World Cup stops in North America this past fall.
Holcomb and his push partner won the gold at all of the two-man races in Calgary, Canada, Park City, UT and Lake Placid, NY – inclusive of an all-American sweep of the podium at this 1980 Winter Olympics venue. USA-1 sled driver Meyers piloted her BMW to the podium three times, also leading of an American podium romp in Park City.
Returning to the FIBT World Cup tour after a welcomed holiday break, five of the six two-man BMW sleds nabbed spots in the top ten on a difficult Winterberg, Germany course.
Only one month remains before the Sochi Olympics in order for these athletes to dial-in to perfection their BMW rides. Men’s coach Brian Shimer said, “We always take a knock coming from our home tracks to Europe, and it's been a lot more challenging this year with the switch to two-man and four-man with the different steering systems in the sleds. We're figuring out some issues and know what we've got to do to get up to speed."
Hold on to your seats, for what looks like a wild, twisting and turning ride all the way to Olympic Games.
Subscribe to all my articles on Team USA's ride to the Sochi Olympics!