Andy Wood's Blog

GB Skeleton Athlete

How it all began!

As mentioned in the ‘About Me’ section, I am a skeleton bobsleigh athlete.  I’ll be keeping my blog updated with how things are going during the summer ‘off season’, as well as the competition winter season which runs from October through to February each year.

Skeleton bobsleigh I hear you ask?  The one where you lay on a tea tray and slide down an ice track head first at 80 miles per hour?  That would be how most people describe it, although frowned upon by many involved with the sport!  Don’t get me wrong, in my experience if someone actually knows what the sport is without me having to describe it, it’s a bonus!  Well there’s a little bit more to it than just laying on a tea tray, as I will describe the steering and mechanics of the sleds in a future blog.

Another question I get asked a lot is “How did you get involved in the sport?”  For me, it was a very drawn out process.  A lot of athletes are talent spotted while taking part in other sports.  With skeleton, a fast sprint is important as we have to run with the sled at the start of each run down the track.  As you can well imagine, athletes from a sprinting background are ideal.  I didn’t have a sprinting background, I was a footballer.  Through my late teens and early twenties, I played for various local football teams and at one point I was playing 5-6 days a week in 11-a-side and 5-a-side leagues.  I really enjoyed playing football at that level but it just didn’t fulfill my personal sporting ambitions.

At the age of 23, I sat watching the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games on the TV at home and noticed a sport called skeleton, which I had never seen before.  I’d heard of bobsleigh but this looked amazing!  After discussing my findings with work colleagues the next day, I decided to look it up on the internet.  I found the website for the British Bob Skeleton Association and I sent an email to the general secretary asking how I could get involved.  I was excited once I got a reply so I opened the email quickly and read that the BBSKA, as it was called then, were holding just one talent identification day later that summer in Bath.  Checking the date with my diary, I was dissapointed to see that it coincided with another event, meaning that I couldn’t make the trip to Bath.

One year later and it was still in the back of my mind.  I sent another email to the BBSKA and this time I was notified of a date I was available for!  It was around June that year and I made my way down to Bath for the talent ID day.  There were about 20 of us, all hoping to show potential.  A series of tests were undertaken involving sprinting, jumping and pushing the sled on the push track facility they have at the University of Bath.  I did my best in trainers, as I didn’t possess any sprinting spikes.  I was glad to hear that I’d made it through the first round of the selection process and was offered the chance to go to Groningen in Holland and compete in an international push competition.  By this time I had bought some sprint spikes!  Playing beach volleyball before the competition probably wasn’t the greatest idea I’ve ever had, as it lead to me cutting the underside of my foot, making the competition later that day quite an uncomfortable experience!  That wasn’t however an excuse for my average performance.  I was up against people who had been doing skeleton or athletics for a number of years.  That was my excuse 😀

Back in the UK, we had more testing and certain times to achieve on the push track, before the BBSKA would make their final choice of athletes to take onto their development programme.  I was 2nd fastest out of the group of athletes they were choosing from, although due to my age at the time, I hadn’t met the required criteria and I was not selected.  The older you were, the higher your targets, according to their policy for selection.

Winter was fast approaching and I was put in contact with a couple of other athletes with a view to take part in a ‘skeleton school’ in Austria.  We would have to pay our own way if we wanted to go, so I saved up my money and got planning.  The school was over the course of a week, based at the Igls bobsleigh track, just outside Innsbruck.  There were about 70 athletes from a multitude of countries, most of which hadn’t done skeleton before, just like me.


With pieces of foam camping mats cut up and taped to my shoulders, arms and ankles, a helmet with no visor and some old clothing that I didn’t mind getting ripped to shreds, I was about to make my 1st descent down the track.  Oh, gloves too, I’m quite fond of my little pinkies.  They started all the new athletes at the women’s luge start, which brings you into corner 5 on the track, with 14 total.  The green light came on and a buzzer sounded and suddenly the hands that were holding me from going anywhere had disappeared.  As I began to pick up speed, I realised why people wear visors in this sport.  I couldn’t really see much after half way down the track as my eyes were watering so much from the wind!  That didn’t stop the huge grin on my face once I’d finished my 1st run, and I was hooked from that moment on.

After a good result in the race on the final day, it wasn’t long before I was back in the UK and planning my next self funded trip, which happened to be back at the same track in Austria and sliding in the army novice camp a few weeks later.  I wasn’t in the army but they let me and a couple of other athletes slide in their sessions.  A bit more experience was gained and later that winter I was off on my 3rd and final self funded week away.  The Igls track in Austria is known as quite an easy track to start on, but my next encounter with a bobsleigh track was set to test me to my limits.  I was off to Altenberg in Germany, known as one of the toughest tracks in the world.  Was I in for a shock!  I’d heard stories of how difficult the track is and how many bruises people had got on previous visits, but as my only experience of skeleton was on the Austrian track, I thought how hard can it actually be?

Actually, I did quite well!  We had a few days of training on the track before competing in the British Championships.  I was up against the best British skeleton athletes at the time, but more important to me, I was also up against the 4 guys who were selected instead of me a few months before hand!  Although I took a couple of bumps on my way down, I managed to beat 2 of the 4 guys who had been taken into the GB development programme, had spent more time on the ice than me that season, and had coaching along the way.

Park City & Lorraine's 30th 043

I’m sure the result in Germany had an influence on the BBSKA’s decision to bring me into the dev programme the next summer, after 2 years of my trying.  Since then, I’ve been away every winter, training and competing at bobsleigh tracks in Europe and North America.  I have a clutch of medals and trophies, most notably being the 1st European slider to win the Americas Cup, which was the 2nd tier competition, in 2007.  I have done a few World Cup races over the last 3 seasons and I hope to continue to progress and achieve good results this coming season and beyond…

August 26, 2009 - Posted by | Blog Archive

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