The 2022 Winter Olympics opened in Beijing last week amid a myriad of global complexities that just might have us soon forget that the Olympics took place at all. Nonetheless, it’s one of your Blogmeister’s favorite sporting events.
Of course, I will enjoy the classic sports of ice hockey and figure skating and downhill skiing and speed skating and the likes. But my favorite Winter Olympic sport is bobsledding, also known as the bobsleigh.
All winter sports have somehow been enhanced over the years by Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) innovation. Bobsledding, though, seems ripe with the ongoing improvement process one finds in RE@L’s STEM investigation process. Every four years the new breakthroughs are on full display. How to go faster, but with more control.
RE@LFlashback: There was a sledding hill about a block from our homes, and we took advantage of it frequently. Most every day after school, one could find about ten of us there, sledding until darkness came upon us.
Inspired possibly by the 1972 Winter Olympics, in Sapporo, Japan, the kids in my neighborhood unknowingly used the steps of STEM problem-solving to improve our winter sledding experience.
Problem: We love sledding, but we just aren’t going fast enough down that hill!
After a fresh snow fall, we would head to that hill and pack it down by sliding on cardboard. Once it was packed down, we could go faster and faster. We even constructed a jump at the bottom of the hill.
There was nothing quite like going fast over that jump! Everyone was watching to see what kind of ‘air’ one would get. And the wipe outs? Picturesque!
Problem: As a result of packing down the snow with our cardboard sleds, we were going faster. But could we go even faster than fast?
We met at the hill and gazed over our packed-down path. In a stroke of innovation and ingenuity — galvanized by watching on television the Olympic bobsled competition in the days prior, we made a decision: we need to ice this path!
It was a Saturday, and we spent most of the day filling one gallon ice cream pails from our outdoor faucets. We filled about a dozen at a time, placed them on our traditional Flexible Flyer two rudder sleds, and slowly pulled them over to the sledding hill. Once we got the hill, we emptied the pails onto the snow-packed trail we had already made, and we watched as gravity took the water further and further down the hill, freezing just moments after contact.
After 8 or maybe 10 trips back and forth and probably one hundred gallons of water on our sledding path, it was time to try it.
We each took our turns while the others watched. It was best to make a running start at the top of the hill, then dive onto the sliding path throwing that quarter-inch-thick red plastic sled (think Aladdin’s magic carpet) between yourself and the snow.
One had only a matter of a couple seconds to plant your elbows, firmly grab the front of the sled, and lift your head up over the top, the icy path flying just inches below our frosty chins.
Communicate the results.
It was fast! Eye-watering fast!
My estimate at the time was that we were going a bajillion miles per hour down that sledding hill. And with our bodies literally feeling every uneven undulation, it felt at times like one might feel sliding over the top of a washboard.
Had we to do it all over again, we would not have iced the landing spot just past the jump at the bottom of the hill. There’s failure in most every STEM process, right? Ouch.
RE@LFlash-forward: The bobsled competition at the Beijing Winter Olympics is scheduled to begin on February 12. I will be watching. Join me!
With high-tech aero-dynamic bobsleds weighing up to 500 pounds and an icy track prompting speeds of about 80 miles per hour, I know how these athletes must feel. Sort of.
At minimum, sledding very fast down an icy hill initiates with excitement our own STEM problem-solving memories on our favorite icy sledding hill in a small Minnesota town in 1972. You never know when and where STEM begins. Or where it ends!
Read more about America’s bobsledding team here.
Some photos and graphics have been provided by pixy.org