Sprinters that have often dominated the dirt, granite, and asphalt tracks are making the transition to a new kind of track -- one coated with ice. And this track isn’t the familiar circular track they’re used to, either. This one has twists and turns that offer thrills and danger. We're talking about the sport of bobsledding.
While this relatively obscure sport was made famous by the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings,” bobsledding is now beginning to capture the attention of many track and field athletes.
Chuck Berkeley, a former 400-meter runner from UC Berkeley, was one of the first from the university to blaze the trail for track athletes to compete in the sport. Berkeley became interested in bobsledding after watching a decathlete from Eastern Illinois University train with one of Cal’s associate head coaches for the 1998 Olympics. Berkeley picked up the sport in 2007 and in 2010 was named to the U.S. Olympic team.
Now, another Cal grad is following in Berkeley’s footsteps. Former Cal sprinter Cherrelle Garrett, who graduated in 2011, is the latest former sprinter to make the transition to bobsledding. The Cal coaching staff convinced Garrett to follow in Berkeley’s footsteps because she fit the prototype of an elite bobsledder -- someone who is “fast and strong.”
And while the former collegiate All-American sprinter is used to going fast -- Garrett was the Pac-10 runner-up in the 100 meters in 2009 -- she wasn’t used to going at bobsled speeds, which can reach speeds as high as 100 miles per hour.
However, her inexperience did not slow her determination to learn the sport. With only a month of training under her belt, Garrett was named to the 2012-13 U.S. national bobsled team, where she began competing on the World Cup circuit as a brakeman in October of last year.
Brakemen are responsible for starting the velocity of the sleigh with a push start and braking at the end of the run to stop the sleigh. Garrett was selected to be a brakemen because of her strength and speed. She ran the 100 meters in college in a blazing time of 11.38 and would often out-squat many of her teammates.
Garrett’s dream has always been to compete in the Olympics, but she never thought it would come in the form of the winter variety. However, watching her teammate Lolo Jones, a world-class hurdler, experience early bobsledding success has furthered her motivation. And with any luck, Garrett will be joining Jones as an Olympian soon -- at the Sochi winter games in 2014.