BMW of North America announced Wednesday that it has been working with the USBSF to develop a new two-man bobsled, with an eye on having it ready for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The deal has been in the works for more than a year — a prototype has already been delivered — and the U.S. believes it could be a major boost to medal hopes.
"I happen to think these are going to be very good," USBSF CEO Darrin Steele told The Associated Press.
The U.S. won Olympic gold in women's bobsledding in 2002 and a four-man gold in 2010, but the two-man gold has eluded the Americans since 1936.
BMW Group also has a sponsorship arrangement with the U.S. Olympic Committee through the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and the company also is the official mobility partner for the USBSF, U.S. Speedskating, USA Swimming and USA Track & Field. BMW's talks about this project with the USBSF go back to at least March 2011, with the sides exchanging ideas about how the technology of building fast cars can translate into building fast sleds.
"They've helped us think outside the box on what they can do to extend the sponsorship past cash and tap into what they do really well, and that's technology and high-performance," Steele said. "They took a chance with this."
Bobsleds are much like race cars — there's very specific rules about how to build them, and to the naked eye, most seem identical.
If this goes the way BMW and the USBSF would like, this new two-man sled would be different, with both sides saying the look is unique.
"What we've got so far, it is recognizably different," said Michael Scully, a creative director for global design at BMW. "It can be what bobsleds in the future are identified as, or it can come to define something that doesn't work. We're really in the early stages of testing. What we're working on is still in development, but yes, it is distinctively recognizable."
BMW is headquartered in Germany — a huge bobsled rival for the U.S., and a nation that typically produces some of the best sliders in the world.
The irony of this arrangement has not been lost on anyone involved.
"It is going to be interesting," Steele said. "They're sponsored as well, but this one is going to be a little bit different."
Some U.S. drivers, including reigning Olympic and world champion Steven Holcomb, tested the prototype sled on the 2002 Olympic track in Park City, Utah, earlier this year. There's been no announcement about when the sled would make a competitive debut later this season in a World Cup race; this weekend's stop on that circuit is in Park City.
Scully did not know much about bobsledding when his role with the project began, though he had a background that made him perfectly suited for the role. He's an accomplished athlete, both in auto racing and alpine sports — combine them, and essentially, you have bobsledding.
He's even taken a run down the track in Lake Placid, N.Y., thinking at the time he'd be able to snap pictures and enjoy a smooth ride. One turn into that trip, he dropped the camera into the sled and began hoping merely to survive the intensely bumpy ride.
"I got exposed to something at the bobsled track I wished I'd gotten exposed to 25 years earlier," Scully said. "It's the coolest thing I've ever seen. It's such a wonderful sport."
Scully's goal now is simple: He wants to help build a sled that gets Americans to the medal stand in Sochi.
"This whole project is about delivering the fastest tool that we can deliver to the athletes," Scully said. "It really is about us trying to provide them with the very best equipment."
BMW says its "EfficientDynamics" technology that works for cars is being applied to the sled plan, with lightweight materials, "optimized aerodynamics and chassis dynamics," and all of it being done to increase "overall sport performance."
"We're no strangers to sport performance characteristics such as agility, speed and aerodynamics," said Ludwig Willisch, the president and chief executive officer for BMW of North America. "To be involved in a project with opportunity for such direct transfer of our core competencies to the advancement of Team USA was a very exciting proposition for us. We can't wait to see this finished sled on the ice."