Tag Archive | 1984 Winter Olympics

Bobsledding Along

The Debut of Sledding in the Olympics

February 9, 2021

Over the years, a variety of competitions have been added to the Winter Olympics. On February 9, 1932, the two-man Bobsled made its debut and has been a fan favorite ever since.

Photo of a USA 2 man Bobsled team at the 1932 Olympics

For anyone unfamiliar with the event, think sledding but much, much faster. The first competitions, predating the Olympic Games, occurred in St. Moritz, Switzerland in the 1800’s.

The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:

“Its foundation began when hotelier Caspar Badrutt (1848–1904) convinced some wealthy English regulars to remain through the entire winter at his hotel in the mineral spa town of St. Moritz, Switzerland. He had been frustrated that his hotel was only busy during the summer months. By keeping his guests entertained with food, alcohol, and activities, he quickly established the concept of ‘winter resorting’. Within a few years, wintering at Badrutt’s St Moritz hotel became very fashionable in Victorian Britain. However, with increased numbers this led some guests to search for new diversions. In the early 1870s some adventurous Englishmen began adapting boys’ delivery sleds for recreational purposes.”

The hotel guests loved the sleds and soon they competed in races down the streets and alleys of St. Moritz. The ‘runs’ became longer and the speeds faster which led to crashes and injuries. Complaints from the townspeople increased.

Sledding the streets of St. Moritz circa 1903

(Badrutt’s) “solution was to build a basic natural ice run for his guests outside the town near the small hamlet named Cresta in the late 1870s. Badrutt took action because he did not want to make enemies in the town and he had worked hard and investing a lot of time and money in popularizing wintering in St. Moritz so he was not going to let customers stop coming due to boredom.”

The Bobsled – either the two-man or four-man – is controlled by a steering mechanism in the nose of a bullet shaped ‘car.’ The participants sit in a crouched position facing forward inside the car which is guided by the pilot. The additional participants serve as pushers to gain initial speed and then as ballast which helps the Bobsled go faster down the icy track.

Besides Bobsled another winter event, the Luge, also involves excessive speeds. The Luge, however, is sport where the participant lays face up on an open, lightweight sled and uses his or her feet to guide it.

You can ride an actual bobsled on the Olympic Track from the Whistler games… just a six hour drive from Seattle!

Both sports are rather heart stopping at times. The world record for Bobsled speed is 125 mph! Lugers generally race between 75 and 90 mph.

Given a choice between watching the summer or winter games, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the snow sports whether it’s skating, skiing, or sledding.

I think this may stem from my childhood days growing up in Yakima. While most of winter in Yakima tends to be marked by sunny, cold, and dry, there are usually a few big enough snow events which made sledding – which is an inexpensive pastime – possible. The street I grew up on was perfect for a beginner sledding experience. It had a slope, but was gentle enough that a five year old could manage it.

As the years went on, I graduated to bigger hills. A walk south to where 31st Avenue crossed Tieton drive brought we adventurous sliders to the top of a rather daunting slope. At the bottom of that slope lived my cousins. When we got bored with our pedestrian hill we ventured to theirs.

Then, the year I was twelve I was allowed one day to head to the holy grail of all sledding hills in Yakima: Franklin Park.

From top to bottom, the hill is probably about 60 feet. The center of the 45 degree slope is flat like a cookie sheet. But on either side are terraces, each of the half dozen around 10 feet high. After a big snow, of course, the hill comes alive with hundreds of kids and every one of them wants to slide down the sloped ‘cookie sheet’ in the middle. It doesn’t take long for the snow to reveal the un-slidable grass from the activity of all those kids.

Franklin Park in Yakima is a magnet for kids after a big snowfall. The center section was always the most popular spot but when the snow was gone even the terraces (the lumpy looking sides) beckoned the brave.

On the particular day I was allowed to go I ended up relegated to trying to figure out how to sled the terraces. I lay down on my sled, hands on the cross bar and inched my way to the top of the highest terrace; the sled dropped down over the edge and I flew. For exactly 10 feet before the sled lurched to a stop in the deep snow.

This was not, you might imagine, a particularly successful method of sledding. But I persevered and dragged the sled to the next terrace ledge, lay down and once again pushed the sled over the ledge, pretty much bouncing down the next terrace with a similar result.

Now I cannot recall for sure on which terrace disaster struck, but strike it did during this, my first and only time sledding at Franklin Park.

Down the slope I went and when I got to the bottom of the third level, the front of the sled reared up and smacked me in the face. I rolled off the sled, the stinging pain letting me know my decision making abilities were not very good. But the worst part of all was that my glasses, which I needed for distance vision, lay broken in two in the snow.

Despite that experience, I have persisted. There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as when you gain momentum and go hurtling down a slippery slope, knowing that you are likely out of control, but loving the speed and the flying sensation.

Kids having fun sledding at the family cabin near White Pass

Our family cabin was, for years, a destination for New Year’s or President’s Day weekends. When the kids arrived, we introduced them to the joys of sledding and everyone looked forward to those trips.

On one particular afternoon, we were all outside playing in the snow and my dad had driven up from Yakima. He had to have been in his late 70’s at the time, but there he was sliding down the hill with the kids and having a great time. Or he was right up until the boat sled in which he was riding sailed over a berm and he landed hard, bruising his tailbone. It was at that moment he declared his sledding days over. About five years ago I did the exact same thing in the exact same spot and, like my dad, ended up bruised and battered.

We all frequently ended up sprawled out on the snow at the end of the sled run

I have my doubts that I’ll ever get back on a sled but I haven’t counted it out quite yet. After we sold the cabin this past summer, two of the metal boat sleds came to live in my garage. Now all I need is a snowy day. Not too far from where I live is an epic hill which would be perfect for a run.

But, with no big snow storms on the horizon, I’ll do the next best thing. I typed in ‘virtual luge’ on my computer and got hundreds of hits. For best results, view it on a full size TV. And for a couple of minutes you can see what it would be like to ride a two man bobsled. And you won’t even need to wear a helmet or your mittens. But a cup of hot chocolate with a dollop of whip cream would be heavenly.

And a couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobsleigh

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luge

Facebook answers, clockwise from upper left corner: 2 Man Bobsled, Ski Jumping, Single Luge, Ice Hockey, Ice Dance

…The Mahre Brothers

Olympic Champions with Silver & Gold

February 19, 2019

Phil and Steve Mahre. PHOTO: Lori Adamski-PeekThis pair of skiers are, no doubt, the most famous Washingtonians to win Olympic medals. It was on February 19, 1984 when the twin brothers slalomed to gold and silver, being the first siblings to compete and place in the same event.

Phil and Steve Mahre were born on May 10, 1957, in Yakima, Washington.  They grew up at White Pass which, as fate would have it, tends to be buried under snow some six months each year. It was there they learned to ski. And learn they did. Phil – the oldest of the two by four minutes – won 27 World cup races during his career, the fourth highest number for an American.

It was, however, the dramatic competition in Sarajevo which cemented the twin’s legacy and also focused attention on the Pacific Northwest. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“At the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Mahre again medaled in the slalom, this time taking the gold while Steve won the silver for a Mahre twin 1–2 sweep. Steve had led the first of two runs, skiing flawlessly and building a large half-second lead over Swede Jonas Nilsson with Phil in third place, another two-tenths back. Phil skied a fine second run to grab the lead, then Nilsson skied next and faltered, dropping out of the medals. Steve skied down last, needing only a solid run to take the gold, but a series of mistakes dropped him into second place, and Phil became the Olympic champion. Meanwhile, unknown to the racers, Phil’s wife Holly had given birth to their second child, a son, in Arizona an hour before the race started. Phil did not find out about it until a TV interview after the race.

phil-mahre-vault-slalom-sarajevo-olympics.jpgThe Mahres won two of the five alpine skiing medals taken by Americans, all from the Northwest. Portland’s Bill Johnson (downhill) and Seattle’s Debbie Armstrong also won gold and Christin Cooper of Sun Valley took the silver for an American 1–2 finish in the women’s giant slalom.”

It was probably around 1974 when I first heard about the Mahre brothers. I had friends who went to school in Naches with the brothers. It was fun over the next nine years to follow their career and cheer for them in the Olympics. It was shortly after the 1984 gold-silver win when the brothers retired from competitive skiing, their spot in the history books cemented.

As I was working on this article I was reminded of a story told by a gal who grew up in Wenatchee and learned to ski at Mission Ridge. Rosemary was a few years older than I but we both worked in the telemarketing cube farm for Microsoft in the winter of 1983. She and I covered the west coast, me California and she the Pacific Northwest. What I most recall about her were her stories. It was always fun to listen to her tales of adventure as a single woman. And she was fearless. Despite the many things she had done, her persona was that of an airhead. Personally, I think it was all an act which she used to disarm people.

In the winter of 1983, Rosemary decided to join a Microsoft group that skied together. The ensemble consisted of a half dozen software programmers and her, the lone female. On one particular Monday in late January or February, she came in to work and related to me that she had gone skiing with the guys for the first time. She had ridden the lift to the top with one of the programmers and when they skied off the chair, the pair found themselves at the top of a slope filled with moguls.

the_mogulsHer fellow skier asked her if perhaps the black diamond run might be a bit difficult and would she like to try something easier?

“Oh no. I think I can handle it,” she replied, then said to him “Why don’t you go first.”

Which he did. And barely managed to stay upright as he picked his way down the bumpy slope. What happened next, according to Rosemary’s story, was epic. She adjusted her goggles, took firm control of her ski poles, and flew down the hill, attacking the moguls like a boss.

Her partner, still staring at her open mouthed as she swept up next to him at the bottom, managed to ask, “Where did you learn to ski like that?”

To which she replied “I was on the 1968 Olympic B team.”

Oh yes, there was so much more to Rosemary than met the eye.

Despite having grown up an hour’s drive from White Pass, I did not learn to ski until I was in my mid-20’s. In fact I took my first ski lessons in the early 1980’s. The hubby and I – along with his sister and Mom – spent several days at Whistler during the 1984 Olympics watching the events in Sarajevo in the evenings at a pub, cheering on the Mahre’s  and the rest of the American’s in their quest for gold.

While I never once came close to skiing like either Phil or Steve Mahre or my co-worker Rosemary, I did have an appreciation and awe of what they could do with a pair of boards and a couple of sticks in the snow. I felt an incredible pride when, in February 1984, the twins from little ole Yakima, Washington, won Olympic silver and gold.

As always, a few links of interest:

https://www.seattlepi.com/sports/article/Where-Are-They-Now-Phil-Mahre-1984-Gold-Medalist-1195145.php

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Mahre

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpine_skiing_at_the_1984_Winter_Olympics

Ted Ligety won two gold medals, 8 years apart… his 2014 Medal was also won on February 19! Although Bill Johnson also won gold in 1984, his medal was won on February 15, four days earlier than Phil Mahre.