As monobob made its Olympic debut on the Yanqing National Sliding Centre‘s notoriously serpentine Xiaohaituo Bobsled and Luge Track — often referred to as “The Dragon” — it quickly became clear: Precision is key.
During Heat 1, pilot after pilot pinballed from side to side, runners rode up the wall, and finish times bled precious tenths of a second off the top. It often looked as though “bumper cars” had become an Olympic sport.
While Team USA’s medal favorites Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries may have seemed slow at the start, they placed third and first, respectively, by the time Heat 1 concluded. The athletes understood better than most the need for balance between caution and speed when operating a 350-pound vehicle down an icy, winding track.
South Korea’s Kim Yoo-Ran became the first athlete to ever compete in Olympic monobob, and it didn’t take long for her for her to skid and bounce across the course’s sharp 16 curves.
By the beginning of Heat 2, most pilots had revised their strategy: Instead of launching down the track at warp speed, a more measured approach allows for more consistency, control and smoother lines.
Despite their best efforts, some of bobsled’s biggest names let the course get the best of them. By the midpoint, “The Dragon” had knocked Mariama Jamanka — Germany’s defending Olympic gold medalist in the two-woman event — into 17th place and likely out of medal contention, 3.69 seconds off the lead.
Canada’s Cynthia Appiah, who placed third behind Meyers Taylor and Humphries in the 2021-22 Bobsled World Cup’s monobob rankings, now stands 10th at the halfway mark.
Meyers Taylor managed two consistent runs, though at the midpoint she hovers outside a podium position by 0.10 seconds. Likewise, Appiah’s compatriot Christine de Bruin seems to have a grip on the track: She cracked the top three at four of the six training runs this past week, and currently stands in second with two heats to go.
But de Bruin’s still more than a second behind her former Canadian teammate, Humphries, who clearly knows exactly what she’s doing on this course.
The final two heats of the women’s monobob competition take place Monday morning in Beijing, or 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday.