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Calgary: Cool runnings

It’s been 25 years since Cool Runnings brought bobsleighing at Canada Olympic Park to the big screen — and this winter sport is still pulling in the adrenalin-seeking crowds

Calgary: Cool runnings
Bobsleighing, Canada Olympic Park. Image: Tourism Calgary

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How did I miss the turn? You’d think that the enormous ski jump tower, up on the grassy hillside, would have prompted me to indicate into Canada Olympic Park. The jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies rise in the distance — under other circumstances I’d be happy to be heading towards the mountains but I don’t want to miss my pre-booked bobsleigh slot.

A glance at the rental car’s speedometer tells me I’m driving at 62mph — roughly the same speed that Calgary’s public bobsleigh hurtles down the icy track in winter. In summer, on wheels, the four-person bob travels at a top speed of around 50mph.

Turning, I get another glimpse of the park that hosted several events during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. The exploits of British ski jumper Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards and Jamaica’s bobsleigh team subsequently inspired movies. Hopefully there’ll be no repeat of the scene in Cool Runnings that sees the Jamaicans flip their sled.

During wintertime Calgarians drive to Canada Olympic Park to ski and snowboard. Today, with the temperature in the mid-20s, most people are visiting to meander downhill on the summer luge. Some are here to zipline, ice skate or play minigolf. Elite athletes will be hard at work indoors, training for the coming season in the park’s facilities.

“You’ve plenty of time,” says a staff member as I arrive to register and sign the waiver form. Anyone aged 14 or over can ride the bobsleigh, so long as their weight is under 110kg — marginally more than 17 stone. Hopefully I’m not pushing that after filling up in Calgary’s restaurants.

Once my fellow bobsleigh riders have signed their forms we’re shown to a truck and driven uphill to the start line. A lean, muscular athlete wearing a bandana and shades greets us. Our pilot introduces himself as Heath Spence, who represented Australia at the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014.

We pull on helmets, like those worn on motorbikes, and climb into a red, aerodynamic bobsleigh bearing a maple leaf motif. I’m surprised at the snugness of the four-man bob. How do pros jump in after pushing to gain momentum? Heath will be doing that alone.

The speaker system announces we’re next out. A shrill beep coincides with Heath shoving us down the track. The rumble of our accelerating descent is surprisingly loud. As we streak through the first of 10 turns we ride up the wall of the white track then settle back into the half-pipe. The force of gravity over the next couple cause my helmet to clang against the bobsleigh’s frame.

As we descend, gravity and speed cause us to swing ever higher through curves. “You ready, guys?” hollers Heath as we rattle through a steep left-hander shielded by a canopy. The ground blurs past below us. Thankfully — unlike me — Heath doesn’t miss his turns and steers us safely to the finish line.

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