1 July 2010
Hurtling down an icy track on a sled with no brakes or steering may not be everyone's idea of fun. But for Shelley Rudman, it's all in a day's work. Here, we talk to the Olympic athlete about her career in the bob skeleton.
From a young age, Shelley Rudman wanted to represent her country in sport. But she never imagined it would be in the skeleton bobsleigh, sliding along ice at breakneck speeds. Today, she has some impressive titles to her name, including Olympic silver medallist Turin 2006, European Champion 2009, British number one, and overall World Cup silver medallist 2008/9. All this, from a career that started just seven years ago.
"I got into sliding after visiting a friend who was already part of the GB Skeleton squad. He was training at the push-start track in Bath and I asked if I could have a go. I liked the sensation and the quest to try and get faster and faster." Shelley then paid to join a military ice camp in Norway and soon became hooked.
Skeleton riders lie face-down on a stripped-down sled with metal runners. It has no brakes or steering. Instead, the athletes use their body weight and rakes in their boots to make turns and slow down. They often experience speeds of up to 95 miles per hour and forces up to 5G.
As Shelley says, "You never know what speed you've reached at the time. On some tracks you have a fair idea as the g-force becomes quite intense. You're either willing everything to go faster, or hoping you can keep the correct line at such speed."
A true love affair
Shelley's whole life revolves around the sport. Not long after she got into skeleton, she met her now-fiancé and fellow slider Kristan Bromley, whose company also designs and makes her sled.
"Having a fiancé in the sport is great, as we both understand what the other is going through. And as the season can last between five and six months, we can travel round the world and compete together."
When she's not jet-setting to cooler climes for the winter season, Shelley's summer training is very similar to that of a sprinter, with a stronger emphasis on core strengthening. While the UK has specialist training facilities where athletes can practice their push-starts, the main ice and competition tracks are abroad, in places across Europe, the USA, Canada - and even in Japan. As most of these are built on mountainsides, they are exposed to all sorts of weather conditions, which can have a major impact on performance.
Every second counts
"The weather can change race results so quickly," Shelley explains. "A very slight scattering of snow over five minutes can slow the track down by half a second - in a race, this could literally be between three sliders."
"The weather can change race results so quickly."
The athletes and their teams are continuously checking the weather conditions, including the ice, air and humidity, to try and predict incoming changes and adapt the settings of their equipment accordingly.
"Wind can blow grit onto the track, which can damage our highly polished runners. So we have to keep a close eye on conditions, as this will determine the choice of runners and the settings we use."
The future of skeleton
With Shelley's continued success and the recent Olympic win for Bath-based athlete Amy Williams in Vancouver, the future of skeleton looks promising. For the UK - a non-winter sport nation - this is particularly impressive.
"As a sport we are being taken more seriously which I hope will have a hugely positive effect on young people who want to take up skeleton bobsleigh," says Shelley. With the medal winning performance from our athletes, and if Shelley's track record is one to go by, we can expect great things from Britain's future sliders.