On Tuesday 26 February at 3pm, a few kilometres from the Austrian city of Innsbruck, I step across the ice-patched concrete and into the starter house at the top of the one kilometre long Olympic bobsleigh track.  With me is my friend Andy Johnson who, when I revealed this plan over a few beers, describes being “caught slightly off guard” as he heard himself saying, “ If nobody else is offering, I'd be up for going with you.”   Also with us are Ian Richardson, brake-man and owner of bobsleigh experience company Ice Speed, and sled owner and professional driver Lukas Kolb. As we approach the sled poised at the start point, anticipation thrills through my veins, trying to convince my limbs to… maybe pause and reconsider.

Andy and I had arrived in Innsbruck just before lunchtime on Monday, both of us still reeling from the very early start that morning.  Despite the best efforts of a local tour guide, who seemed very determined to take us to her hotel, we finally hooked up with Ian and, somewhat blearily, headed to our hotel in the village of Igles located at the foot of The Patscherkofel, the mountain on which the track is situated.  Having checked in, we made our way on to The Patscherkofel to get a feel for the track.  At this point reality began to sink in a bit.  Simply put, watching it on telly gives you about as much sense of experiencing a bobsleigh run as wiping your face with a damp flannel gives you of swimming the channel.

Andy and friend on the track

The gradients of the course and the tightness of the turns began to unfold as we walked up beside the track from the finish line.  There are 15 turns on the course.  Turns 11, 12 and 13 follow each other in close succession, changing direction in just a few metres.  The vertical walls of the turns also loomed very high at points.  And then we arrived at turn 7.  Turn 7 takes the form of a 270 degree loop that curves around itself and above the track.  At this point the sled is riding high on the vertical wall, whilst its occupants are being compressed into its floor by a force of 5G.  We returned to the hotel for a little lie down.

Tuesday morning arrives and, following a very leisurely breakfast and stroll around the village, we headed back to the track, adrenalin now building.  Ian gave us our safety briefing and then we collected our helmets and gave our respects to the various parts of our bodies to which we’ve become attached over the years.

Andy and team in their bobsleigh

Now back at the start, sled poised on the runway, I take my place in the number three position just in front of Ian as brakeman.  Lucas slides into the driver’s seat, Andy then squeezes in between my knees, Ian jumps in behind me and we’re linked like a row of sausages in a high-speed packet.

Green light on and we’re away!  All I’m aware of is the rumble of the runners on the ice and Ian’s grip on my top pulling left and right to warn of the upcoming turns.  A gentle left, harder right… increasing in frequency.  Pressure building left... right... and where are we?  Then massive pressure… and yes, turn 7 pushing through the G.  We push through the G, sit up straight, sit up straight.  Straight for a bit, right turn then bang, bang, bang... flick flacking through turns 11, 12 and 13 then the longer 14.  Ian lets go and hits the brakes and we gradually slow.  We stop. I sit. I sit.  I sit.  Then Lucas gives me a hand and I’m out.  But… Oh.  My.  God.      

There really is nothing I can compare the experience with.  One story that Ian shared afterwards really put it in perspective.  A friend of his took a couple of Red Arrows display pilots in a sled and they left feeling humbled.  I’m left wondering if the only thing I can do to experience anything like it again is simply have another go! I’m hugely grateful to Ian for his generosity and 'can-do’ attitude and Andy Johnson for being up for it.  Thank you too to everyone who has donated so far!  The total is currently over £1,000, combining donations to my JustGiving page and a cash collection organised by my local station café. 

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