(ATR) Contested with new sleds and a new format from traditional bobsleigh races, the first-ever Monobob event at the Youth Olympic Games proved to be a big success.
The two-heat races in the new single driver sleds were unique in that competitors were issued equal sleds and runners by race organizers, eliminating any technical advantages. After the first run, sleds were re-distributed with the leading driver’s sled given to the slowest finisher and vice-versa.
Germans Jonas Jannusch and Laura Nolte won gold medals in the men’s and women’s monobob events on a snowy Saturday at the Hunderfossen venue.
"The monobobs are very interesting and it’s a great idea for all competitors to have the same bobs," said Jannusch, who won gold by 0.15 seconds ahead of Russian Maksim Ivanov. "Many countries say that Germans are good because of the materials, but we have shown today it’d not because of the materials, but that we are really good bobsled drivers."
Monobob pilots said the lighter sleds were easier and safer to drive down the 16-curve Lillehammer track, but still plenty of fun. Competitors reached speeds in the vicinity of 110 Kph, however no crashes resulted in either of Saturday’s races.
"If you make a mistake in the monobob, you do not crash as quickly as in the two or four-man bobsleds," Jannusch said. "It’s much safer."
"In two-person bobsled, you have to do much more so there is a big difference," German gold medalist Nolte said comparing the two types of sleds. "It’s pretty good for beginners because you have no one behind you in the sled to take care of."
Nolte was congratulated by a teary-eyed Wolfgang Hoppe, the bobsled legend and six-time Olympic bobsled medalist, who is now the German team’s coach.
Norwegian Kristian Olsen thrilled hometown fans with a well-executed second run to climb from fifth place after run one to win a bronze medal.
"At the top, I just said to myself I have to have a cool head and everything went great," Olsen said.
The 17-year-old Norwegian added: "The monobob is so good to drive – it’s an easy bob, but a lot of fun."
Just fifteen men and fifteen women raced in the monobob events with the competitions moving along swiftly.
The IOC president Thomas Bach joined International Skeleton and Bobsleigh Federation (ISBF) president Ivo Ferriani for the ladies’ race.
"This is the second season we have been racing with monobobs, but the first time at a major event," Ferriani said of the sport’s Olympic debut. "I am sure it will help to develop a young generation because it makes it easier for them to approach the sport, it is sustainable in cost and it’s safe."
With new snow consistently falling, the inaugural event was held in a spectacular winter wonderland setting, however competitors said the weather was not a major issue.
"It was the first time today that we slid on this track in snow all week and it was obviously a bit challenging at the start," said British bronze medalist Kelsea Purchall. "I felt I could have done better in these weather conditions, but I did have my fastest time at the start."
Brazilian pilot Jessica Victoria, a native of Rio de Janeiro, drove very well considering that there aren’t any bobsled tracks in her home country. She recently learned to drive monobobs at the famed natural track in St. Moritz last October.
"My first run was the worst of all my life and I was so sad, but my coach told me to relax and enjoy the competition – that’s what I did, and I did really well in the second run," Victoria said of about finishing ninth of 15 competitors despite her inexperience.
Jamaican monobob driver Daniel Mayhew continued the Caribbean Island nation’s bobsled tradition which dates back to the 1988 Calgary Olympics and was humorously depicted in the popular Disney film "Cool Runnings."
"Ever since ‘Cool Runnings’ we have been progressive, but most people don’t know that Jamaica still does the bobsled," Mayhew said. "It’s something that Jamaicans can get really good at, but we need more support from the bobsled federation so we can do our best and make our country proud."
It remains to be seen when we will next see the monobob sleds in action at other major events, nevertheless the inaugural Olympic competition was an excellent and well-received addition to the Youth Olympic Games program.
Written by Brian Pinelli in Lillehammer.
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