Competition in women’s monobob – bobsled’s newest Olympic event – gets underway Sunday morning in Beijing (8:30pm ET Saturday night in the United States). On Her Turf’s preview and live updates of the event can be found here.
Originally published: January 31, 2022
While competing at the Olympic bobsled test event in October, Elana Meyers Taylor found herself in a predicament. After finishing a monobob training run at Yanqing National Sliding Center, Meyers Taylor was at the bottom of the track without anyone to help her move her 365-pound sled.
“My brakeman wasn’t able to be down at the bottom of the track because something got mixed up,” she said. “So I had to pull the sled off myself… I had to pull it off on our runners – on wood – which completely damaged the runners. Those are a $6000-plus dollar piece of equipment. It took a lot of work to repair those – all because I didn’t have a brakeman down there with me.”
For Meyers Taylor, this experience was a prime example of why the new women’s monobob event – which will make its Olympic debut in Beijing – isn’t really a one-woman event, despite its name.
Push athletes (also known as brakemen) help with every aspect of the event, “Except the actual ride down the track,” Meyers Taylor said.
While the U.S. Bobsled team has a mechanic on staff to help with significant sled repairs, it is the athletes who are responsible for preparing the sleds for competition, loading them onto and off of the tracks, and driving them from one World Cup stop to the next.
“We don’t have a pit crew. The people that race also tend to the sled,” said U.S. push athlete Sylvia Hoffman, who will make her Olympic debut in Beijing. “We’re kind of blue-collar. We get in there, we get our hands dirty.”
“Those 60 seconds or less on the ice is literally the easiest part of this entire process,” Olympic bronze medalist Aja Evans said in October.
As it stands now, Evans won’t even be able to enjoy those 60 seconds cruising down the track at Yanqing National Sliding Center. As an alternate for this year’s U.S. Olympic team, she isn’t currently expected to compete at the Games, though she is still in China to train and help with the sleds.
The addition of women’s monobob only does so much for gender equity in bobsled
While men have competed in two Olympic bobsled events for nearly a century, thanks to the addition of a women’s monobob event, the 2022 Winter Olympics will mark the first time that female bobsledders have two medal opportunities.
Female pilots, that is.
But Meyers Taylor and fellow U.S. pilot Kaillie Humphries – the most decorated female bobsledders in Olympic history with three medals each – weren’t particularly happy when monobob was added to the Olympic program. They had instead been advocating for the addition of a four-woman event.
“It wasn’t what me and Kaillie intended when we started this journey,” Meyers Taylor said. “We intended to try and get more women in, to give more medal opportunities to the female brakemen, too.”
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Women’s monobob was appealing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because the event arguably allows for more competitive balance between nations. Monobob sleds are far less expensive – and with all sleds produced by the same manufacturer – there is less room for wealthy bobsled nations to pay for technical bells and whistles.
“Woman’s four-man bob costs three or four times of monobob,” IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell said when monobob was added. “We felt there would be more universality in the women’s monobob. We really didn’t see more than a handful of countries really developing women’s four-man programs because of the costs involved.”
But the addition of monobob has resulted in a different cost, one that falls on the shoulders of the athletes who aren’t even eligible to win a medal in the event.
Female push athletes often spend just as much time preparing for the monobob competition as they do the two-woman event. “We’re increasing the workload, but with less people to do it,” Hoffman said.
“It takes an entire team just to manage one monobob,” Meyers Taylor said. “Some of the monobob-specific pilots who don’t have brakemen… I have no idea how they get anything done.”
All bobsleds – regardless of event – have four runners that are made of smooth steel. Prior to each day of competition, the runners must be smoothed, buffed, and sanded – grit by grit. The process takes upwards of three hours.
“We want to make sure we have no scratches in there,” Hoffman said. “Scratches mean slower.”
“You’ll see the drivers driving it, they’ll be the ones on the podium, but you don’t see the brakeman,” Meyers Taylor said. “In some sports, Olympic alternates get medals and I feel like in this one, monobob brakemen should definitely be getting [a medal] too.”
2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Bobsled Schedule
Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time)
Date/Time (Beijing, China)
|Women’s Monobob (Runs 1 & 2)||2/12/22 8:30 PM||2/13/22 9:30 AM|
|Women’s Monobob (Runs 3 & 4)||2/13/22 8:30 PM||2/14/22 9:30 AM|
|Two-Women (Runs 1 & 2)||2/18/22 7:00 AM||2/18/22 8:00 PM|
|Two-Women (Runs 3 & 4)||2/19/22 7:00 AM||2/19/22 8:00 PM|
On Her Turf’s complete TV guide to the 2022 Winter Olympics – which includes info on when and how to watch every women’s event – can be found here.
Dan Levinsohn contributed to this report.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC