Bobsleigh is one of those sports that most people don’t know much about, let alone try. But a Bourne man knows more than most about the winter sport and is enjoying success both in the sledge and as an international coach.
Graham Richardson, 50, recently won silver in the two man bobsleigh in the European Seniors Championship, with team mate Richard Hall, 52, from Market Overton.
The two have been competing together for almost two decades after first experiencing the sport when they were in the RAF.
Richardson is now sharing his expertise on the ice and has just taken a new job as a development coach with the Canadian national team, having been the Italian coach last season and coached the Dutch team before that.
Neither man quite made the British Olympic team, they were in the running for the 1998 Games but just missed the cut.
However Richardson has tasted Olympic success as a coach, helping the Canadian women’s team to gold at Sochi last year.
The four man bob can reach terrifying speeds of up to 155kph at the fastest course in the world, Whistler, and you’re not even allowed to use the brakes until the end because it damages the course meaning there is no way to slow yourself down once you start.
Of course the top athletes in the world don’t want to slow their sledges as every split second counts but it makes learning scary.
Richardson said “It’s not like being in a jet fighter, it’s a constant acceleration and force which builds and builds. It feels out of control, like an roller coaster ride.”
He recounts his first ride, he said by corner four he thought they were flying, little did he realise the speed they would be at by the end of the 19 turn course at La Plagne, in France - the course used in the 1992 Winter Olympics, made famous for being the year Jamaica entered the bobsleigh which inspired the Disney film ‘Cool Runnings.’
The film is probably as close as most people have ever got to seeing the sport in action but Hall and Richardson have been down the toughest courses in the world and lived the drama first hand.
Just as the film ends with a spectacular crash Richardson has had his fair share of accidents. He said when you are learning to be a driver like he is, they are a way of life and he has been involved in at least 30, picking up ice burns and concussions along the way.
However that has never put him off and the two men are still competing together on the seniors racing circuit.
Earlier this year they won silver at the European Seniors Championship, despite Richardson competing with an injured knee.
In 2007 the pair entered the seniors event for the first time and won gold in their age group. The next year they were on track to claim a second gold, topping the leader board after the first of two runs. But as the two launched themselves down the ice in the second run Richardson’s Achilles snapped. He managed to get in the sledge but they lost the power and speed at the start which is required to record a fast time.
Richardson got straight out the sledge, into an ambulance and was having surgery that night.
However that has not put him off the sport and he encourages anyone with Olympic dreams to look out for the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association’s open try outs if they want to get involved.
Richardson said: “It’s a very small sport and they are on the look out for talented athletes all the time. “You want big guys who are fast and powerful.”
Visit: /www.bobteamgb.org/ to find out about the latest try outs.