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How to watch bobsled (4-man) at the Winter Olympics: A guide to understanding and appreciating the sport

Photo credit should read JOHANN GRODER/AFP/Getty Images

It’s rare that a sport in America is beloved not for our own involvement. But that’s what four-man bobsledding is thanks to our friends at Disney. The famous movie Cool Runnings made us all fall in love with the Jamaican bobsled team, and root for them.

But this is a Winter Olympics year, so we should at least pretend to root for the folks in stars and stripes.

I was under the impression that the activity would be quite fun, perhaps even an enjoyable experience for those in the bobsleigh. But my colleague, Morgan Moriarty, recently got a quote from a former football player turned bobsledder, Sam McGuffie, which explains to me that, no, it is not fun at all.

“It’s different than you think,” McGuffie said of going down the ice. “You look at it ‘oh, it looks smooth, it’s just going down the ice, it’s a joyride’ — it’s nothing like that. It’s totally polar opposite of that, it’s violent. It’s like being put in a garbage can and being kicked down a flight of stairs for a minute straight.”

Either way, that description has me hyped for the competition.

What time and how can I watch?

The four-man bobsleigh competition takes off during the second week of Olympic coverage with two days of action.

  • Feb. 23 — The main competition day in prime time on NBC.
  • Feb. 24 — The gold medal runs, also in prime time on NBC.

NBCOlympics.com will have a live stream of all events. You can also live stream NBC, NBCSN, and the Olympic Channel coverage via Fubo.TV on your computer or mobile devices.

Why should I quit my job and become a lifelong devotee of four-man bobsleigh?

It really is everything Americans like. Speed, danger, teamwork and, most importantly, it’s short. Runs are only about a minute long, so there’s not a long attention span needed.

What are the rules of bobsled? Follow up: What is the weirdest rule of bobsled?

The bobsleigh comes in two-person, four-person and the excellently named MONOBOB versions. It was invented by the Swiss in the 1860s because I guess they just really wanted to bomb down mountain ranges at high speeds for no reason. The jig proceeds as such for the four-man: Four people run behind the sled to get it going, then hop in for a ride in which speeds can exceed 80 miles per hour.

The start was such a big deal that rules had to be made to stop really big guys getting put on teams to help push.

By the 1950s, the critical importance of the start had been recognized and athletes with explosive strength from other sports were drawn to bobsledding. In 1952, a critical rule change limiting the total weight of crew and sled ended the era of the super heavyweight bobsledder and rebalanced the sport as an athletic contest.

What can I talk about to impress the bobsleigh enthusiast in my life?

There’s actually very little steering involved because that gets the bobsleigh out of whack. You actually want to keep the thing going straight as best you can and be proactive instead of reactive because of the speeds.

Whose jersey should I buy?

You should get you a Steven Holcomb jersey if there are such things. The three-time gold medal winner and 10-time world champion was found dead in his sleep eight months ago. He was one of the U.S.’s top pilots, and Holcomb helped end our 62-year medal drought in the four-man event.

What is the sport’s AMERICA RATING?

If we’re doing this on a scale from one-to-’MERICA, McGuffie breaks it down in perfectly red, white, and blue terms.

“You have to be physical, you have to be fast, you have to be strong,” McGuffie said. “You can’t just be mediocre at both, you have to be 99 to 100 percentile in those aspects so, its tough, but it translates pretty well. Running back, it’s all explosive movements, and that’s what it is in bobsled basically, you have to explode off the line, off the block, and you’re hitting a 1000-pound sled, so you have to have power and speed to get it going.”

What’s the best GIF I can watch from 4-man bobsled?

Cool. Runnings.

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