‘Carthage must be destroyed’

Another year, another bobsleigh season, where giant strapping specimens of manhood gather, two and four at a time, to run faster than anyone you’ve ever met can run. These specimens gather, in essence, to be the exact opposite of Johnny Weir and of contestants on Project Runway; we’ve been through this before .

You can’t do what they can do and neither can I. It’s a combination that can’t be beat: No other group of guys, not even in pro football, is consistently this tall, this big, this strong, and this fast.

And half of them are “on the Facebook,” and nearly all of them are my “Facebook friends.” This is merely the latest wrinkle in well more than a decade’s interest in an obscure, ruinously expensive, needlessly hazardous sport that muscles out everything but men’s “amateur” hockey for the elite spot at the Winter Olympics. (It’s one of only two sports Monaco has any real presence in; the other is equestrian, and if bobsledders don’t qualify as steeds I don’t know what does.)

I watch all bobsleigh coverage

My esteemed colleague gamely sat through three out of four runs at the Vancouver Olympics with me – 66 runs featuring 254 225-pound bobsledders. I am now at a point where what I blurt out at the television screen contains almost exactly half the content the actual colour commentator comes out with. We agree on quality and speed of starts nine times out of ten. I can peg a brush against the track before our “colour man” can get the words out. I’m not doing badly if I’ve got half as much knowledge as a former bobsledder who’s paid to talk us through a hundred runs every four years. Come for the beef, stay for the action.

I am not the only one who thinks this! 100% of the guys involved in bobsleigh love being around these giant strapping fellas. They never shut up about it and they like to use nonironic terminology – “beef,” “jackhammering quads,” “the big boys.” That endless fountain of quotable quotes, good Christian Lyndon Rush, calls 254-pound Kevin Kuske “the perfect specimen,” which he pretty much is.

Unlike why gay guys love amateur wrestling, everything I like about bobsleigh is what everyone who likes bobsleigh likes about bobsleigh. And there you were thinking there was something else going on I wasn’t telling you about. I am as upfront about what’s going on as the God-fearing Mormons and Republicans and Christians in the sport, and the Eurotrash.

There are only two kinds of bobsledders

Good and bad. Most bobsledders are bad bobsledders. Isn’t it cute how Serbia, Poland, and Liechtenstein made it to the Vancouver Olympics? They didn’t stand a chance. What happens in men’s bobsleigh is what happens in wymmynz hockey: A select few countries play musical chairs with the medals.

Since 1980, only nine countries have won all the medals – Austria, Canada, France, Germany (also East), Great Britain, Italy, Russia (also USSR), Switzerland, and the USA. Some of those are lucky breaks, like the two tie medals at Nagano (Italy and Canada for gold in two-man, which resulted in 850 pounds of bobsledder on one medal podium, and France and Great Britain for bronze in four-man).

If I am reading the results correctly, and without bothering to unite countries like Russia and Germany, only 12 countries have ever medalled in men’s bobsleigh, the only kind that matters.

Accordingly: Who is the best bobsledder?

It’s no contest: Andre Lange. (Don’t you know anything?)

Bleach-blond Lange holding German flag behind him like a cape

He finished his career in Vancouver with two medals. Nobody does it better, and despite the Eurotrash platinum dye job, he is an impressive spectacle. I have never seen anyone calmer at a starting line. Sometimes he’s standing there with his hands behind his back, with the resting heart rate of an android. A machine for sledding.

Who needs the Jamaicans?

For those of you suspicious of any sport that isn’t black enough, but never really suspicious of any sport (like the 100-metre dash) that’s all black, at Vancouver there were about six black guys pushing bobsleds, though never driving. Some are mixed-race and might not consider themselves “black,” though surely these three do: monstrous Lascelles Brown (Canada), Richard Adjei (Germany [yes]), and Henry Odili-Nwume (U.K.).

Swiss design triumphs again

When viewed from overhead, as all sleds are on television, exactly one sled does not look like total shit or like nothing at all. Not coincidentally, it’s the Swiss’, whose yellow-and-black zigzags make it look like a well-designed shark hurtlin’ your way. Even the helmets match.

Bobsleds have their own typography. (What doesn’t?) The Serbians keep it classy with SRB in Arial straight off their pirated Windows installations. Russia seems to think it’s typesetting a children’s story with Century Schoolbook italic. Let’s not talk about the Canadian sleds, emblazoned with “canada” (sic) on the side in lower-case Handel Gothic.

What the hell’s going on with the Australians?

Duncan Harvey packed into Australia team T-shirt and striped leggings Why would iceless Australia enter the world of bobsleigh? Because there isn’t a sport these people like to lose. Until now, apparently.

The team is saddled with hand-me-down sleds, which is common enough but still a handicap. They train in Calgary and Salt Lake – again common, as there are barely any training facilities anywhere. The problems are mismanagement and not enough money.

Bobsleigh is about split-second timing, especially in the entry phase. Long- and thick-legged men have to jam themselves into exactly the right position, down to the millimetre, while wearing hundreds of razor-sharp bobspikes on the soles of their shoes. Blow this and you blow the run, and maybe cut up your pusher or pilot.

In Vancouver, the Australian bobsledding braintrust decided to swap out brakemen like they were lightbulbs. You can’t win with a stranger pushing your sled. Then the killer Whistler track, which toppled something like 15 sleds during training and competition runs, took out the four-man, injuring the two Duncans – Pugh (“Pughie”) and demigod Harvey (pictured). They ended up not racing four-man.

If you’re the pride of Australia, i.e., a nationally ranked athlete, what do you do when you put all these years of your life into an already-obscure sport your baking-hot nation doesn’t give a shit about? You defect. Welcome to Canada, Christopher Spring.

Hélas, pauvre Cédric !

Cédric Grant walks out of frame with a sour expression on his face The only Francophone on the Swiss team, Cédric Grand, made all these heartbreaking expressions of disappointment whenever the next sled down the track beat the Swiss sled’s time.

This is the same Cédric who didn’t bat an eyelash at having a sports-massage session recorded by a television crew. (His gobsmacked masseur thinks it’s an honour to work on him. I’ll just bet he does.) He reacted with bafflement to the female reporter’s questions about his body. Then he pulled a prank on his Facebook friends by claiming he was in a relationship with a man named Greg. My kinda guy.

«Cédo» had his own fan blog going there for a while. He ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Bears for Steve Holcomb

Steve(n) Holcomb piloted the Night Train to the gold medal in four-man. We’ve met him before: He once was blind but now can see, and is also the only musclebear in the entire sport.

Everybody notices this. Macintosh supremacist Steve Mesler got a question about it on the Your Mac Life podcast, to which he replied “Don’t let his physique fool you.” (Isn’t it cute when elite athletes spontaneously say “physique”?) “He is strong and powerful. And he doesn’t need to run as far as we do.”

Screenshot: Bears for Steve Holcomb Who else is gonna notice this? Bears. Oh, my God, the bears. Holcomb barely hops off the medal platform and whaddya know, some guy sets up Bears for Steve Holcomb. His sister and brother-in-law signed up early; they let everybody know Steve is “flattered” by all the attention.

It took four days to hit a thousand members. Today, it’s 1,630. If “Holcy” is smart he’ll pull a Ben Cohen and milk this for all it’s worth. Any city he visits where overweight homosexualists congregate, Steve Holcomb will enjoy a wild, devoted coterie of starstruck fanboys. Imagine the pub nights. Think of the thrill it would be – for them – just to stand around in the same bar as a gold medallist. A guy with a gay fan base is set for life.

This would be an excellent time, finally, at long last, to publish a Dieux du Stade–like calendar of naked bobsledders. What do they care? When they’re not dressing up in tutus and suchlike, they can barely keep their shirts on. The only bobber with a gut can model for December, making Christmas merry for shrieking, starstruck fatsos everywhere.

The other lads are never gonna let him live it down, though. Letterman’s writers saw it coming.

1. That’s not the brake lever, but don’t stop pulling

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.03.08 13:03. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
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