Another year has passed in which I watch as 220‑ to 260-pound leopards, in twos and fours, slide down the ice at 70 miles an hour. Spoiler: USA 1 swept everything. It stands to reason: The only tub of lard in bobsleigh, Steve Holcomb, is the best driver; his brakeman, Steve Langton, is the best athlete in the entire sport. (Two different Steves, two different bodies. Though Holcomb has slimmed down noticeably.) Of course they won! Steve Holcomb’s two thousand gay boyfriends (q.v.) have another reason to squeal girlishly.

What about Australia? Here is what happened to Australia.

Bobsled on its side on track

Every team crashes eventually. Mr. HEATH SPENCE crashed after starting in 20th position out of 20 sleds in Heat 3 of the world championships at Lake Placid. Only 20 sleds would move through to Heat 4, but there were only 20. Heath’s sled crashed and slid to within inches of the finish line, thereby earning a DNF for the team. Heath, as usual, tried to look on the bright side (they crashed and slid farther than anyone else; one of their starts was second only to Holcomb’s), but boom, it was over.

That wasn’t even their sled, of course. Australia is too cheap to buy one. Australia, in fact, has shown contempt for its own bobsleigh team all along, changing the rules, starving Heath and his lads of cash and coaching, and essentially abandoning the team in a distant hemisphere. (Heath lives in Calgary.)

(When I asked the Australian Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association, which is really just Shane McKenzie, for a comment, he didn’t provide one – to me. Heath told me “As shitty as it may seem from your perspective and from my perspective and my brakemen’s perspective, it’s actually better than its ever been.”)

Heath Spence calling iPhone The only ginger Australian bobsledder on earth needs all the help he can get.

  • I tried to shake down some expert help to build them a new Web site, which did not turn out as expected. (I suppose we could have given it a go, as Australians like to do, but I didn’t want to replace one half-assed site with another one.)

  • I pitched an athleticwear company that dearly needs to develop credibility among straight guys for a bit of support, only to find out soon after that Lululemon is run by Objectivists.

I set out to help Heath as best I could and didn’t even manage to do so as best I could, let alone produce any material benefit. I do have another idea I’m pursuing. Nonetheless, it pains me how Heath is barely scraping by while also representing his nation on the world stage. Canada treats its amateur athletes like shit and you just naturally expect that, but Australia?

Australia is the underdog, the Bad News Koalas of bobsledding. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The class struggle in bobsleigh has been apparent all along, because the same family of teams keeps winning – true even in the World Cup circuit, where the top six take home medals. (“At official FIBT Championships, the FIBT awards gold, silver and bronze medals to the athletes of the first‑, second‑, and third-placed teams. The athletes of the fourth‑, fifth‑, and sixth-placed teams receive commemorative medals.”) I saw another class divide: Rich teams have roadies who turn the sled on its side and haul it away after a race (Germany, USA), but nobody else does.

When I write “saw” I do not mean to suggest, as you, the inveterate reader, may have inferred, that I watched every event. We taped every event, some of which the TiVo simply ate before we could get to them. (It’s possible to watch everything online and/or on a reasonable app.) We didn’t do the Vancouver Olympics thing and watch 66 bobsleigh runs. We watched enough. That means I watched them while my esteemed colleague drew on Mixel on the iPad.

I love these giants as much as everybody else. Picture, then, my delight to learn that amputees and paraplegics were learning how to bobsled.


A Facebook contact had been trying to put together a disabled bobsleigh team for the entire time he was my contact. It seems the Americans beat him to it, with a training camp in Salt Lake overseen by Cody Reese (amputee; can count to 15) and Jeremy Holm (experienced bobsledder; can count to 20). It’s a mixture of paras and amps.

You’d think I should be all over that. I tried to be. I did a phoner with Reese as part of a plan to interview all the relevant people. I was in no rush, so it dragged on forever – long enough, in fact, for these already-marginal athletes to split into two factions, the People’s Front of Judea (United States Adaptive Bobsleigh Team) and the Judean People’s Front (National Adaptive Sliding Sports Association).

There’s nothing to split. There is no disabled bobsleigh. All the leaders from the Paralympics and bobsledding (including the IBSF president) make the right noises, but unless and until there are eight nations fielding teams, what the cripsledders have here is a hobby, not a sport. They can call me when they get their act together.

(UPDATE) One of the would-be cripsledders is a neck-tattooed white supremacist and avowed anti-Semite. Get him off whatever passes for your team and maybe I can take you seriously. People like him are a clear danger to people like me.

What else happened?

  • Chris Spring crashed his sled. I covered a conference call on the topic, to the bafflement of bobsleigh officials and lifer sportswriters, who, curiously, never bothered to cover the athletes’ own followups:

  • Videos (two of many):

    1. Lumsden and lads’ workout montage

    2. James McNaughton declaiming the worst, i.e. best, poetry ever. The Americans made a big deal about the inclusion of a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in baseball, NFL, and NBA player contracts; James might want to familiarize himself with the fact that Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton has banned that sort of thing all along. He may also wish to keep count of how many of his team’s fans are or are not “faggots.” (Me to esteemed colleague: “He just needs a little socialization.” “Yeah – back in high school”)

  • Cédric Grand started shilling for a sports beverage that pretty much seems like iced tea sweetened with stevia.

    «Comme Cédric Grand, joue le jeu[ !]»

Bobsleigh photo of the year

Or bobsledder photo of the year. As with Árpád Miklós, we already know what these guys look like in unitards. Here, though, is Alexander Mann’s Facebook photo of what Marko Hübenbecker looks like fully clothed thumbing an iPhone.

Hübenbecker in German-standard parka staring at camera as if menacingly

Linguistics lessons for bobsledders

  • Martins Dukurs’ name is fundamentally Martin Dukur. The S is a masculine nominative case marking in Latvian. But we aren’t speaking Latvian, so we drop the S.

  • Cripsledders are perhaps too attached to their neologism “adaptive.” Of course you’re adapting the rules and the sleds, but sports nearly always adapt themselves for athletes with a disability. (Maybe archery doesn’t.) Disabled sport is adapted by definition.


Anybody remember when the Donald Trump of computer software, Michael Cowpland of Corel, essentially bankrolled all of bobsledding?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2012.03.08 16:01. 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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None. I quit.

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