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Female Bobsledders Are Unicorns...but now that the IBSF changed the rules, they don't have to be.
September 2, 2015
The sport of bobsleigh can be traced back to the late 1800s. It was actually one of the original sports when the Olympic Winter Games started in 1924. As old as the history of this sport runs, the presence of women in the sport is only as old as me! Although some Canadian women started to slide in the late 1980s...the IOC only inducted the women's bobsleigh event at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Since the women came into the sport late, they used the same sleds as the men. There are no differences that would make a sled specific for a man or a woman, therefore; the minimum weight of a sled in a race is the same for both men and women....170kg. 380 pounds isn't exactly light, which is why the athletes that are best in this sport are super strong. Since the first woman's World Cup in 2000, the maximum weight for the sled + the two athletes has been 340kg. Ideally you want to be as close to that maximum weight when in motion (greater mass equals a greater velocity), but to have a faster push you would want heavier athletes pushing the lightest sled possible. So, if you push a minimum weight sled, each female athlete can weigh 85 kg including their equipment (helmet, speed suit, spikes, etc. might weight up to about 5 lbs) How many girls do you know that are at their best athletic potential when they weight about 185 lbs? I mean, I know a few ladies who could put on the muscle and be strong as an ox at 185, but they most certainly wouldn't be able to sprint 30m in under 4 seconds. Where am I going with this......BOBSLED GIRLS ARE UNICORNS...(The ideal body type pretty much doesn't exitst). There is such a small pool of athletes in the world that are truely at their fastest and strongest when at this weight. Most girls in the sport have to race with weight added to their sleds because they aren't personally heavy enough.
On June 2, 2015 the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation put out a press release saying that for the first time ever they are adjusting the weight restrictions, but only for the woman's event. Starting the the 2015/16 season the Woman's total weight will decrease by 15kg to 325kg, but 5 kg can come out of the sled. The minimum sled weight will now be 165kg. In the 2016/17 season the total weight will drop to 310kg and the sled minimum will be 160kg.
What this means for us Canadain sliders: Most girls on our Canadian team are not naturally at that higher ideal weight (despite trying!). We run with our sleds well above the minimum, heavier to push but equal total weight on the way down the track. This year, rather than everyone trying to put on a couple extra pounds we can maintain our own ideal weight and get to push a lighter sled. It also opens the pool of athletes we can recruit to our sport. Traditionally, female bobsled athletes are recruited from sports like track and field and rugby. Have you ever told a girl she looks like she has put on a few pounds??!?! You might have got slapped. Now try convincing a track sprinter that she should totally come push a bobsleigh...OH but she has to put on 20 lbs first. YA RIGHT!!!! Thats one of the main reasons why there are so few women in the sport....There aren't enough Unicorns out there. With these rule changes it opens the door for these super fast track girls, and they can come as they are!
The only red flag is reducing the sled weight by a significant amount. Because the sleds over the last decades are manufactured to be a minimum 170kg, there are very few in our pool that are capable of running at 165kg, and even fewer that will be able to get down to 160kg, especially in the development level sleds. This will mean that the athletes themselves will personally have to account for the restricted total weight. Eventually it looks like they will have to start making female and male sleds. This will be extremely costly and may serve as an advantage to the big countries that have the resources. It will probably bring out a new set of problems in the sport, but until then....we can get some more girls sliding!