From sand to snow: Switzerland’s brightest female bobsleigh hope
Two years ago, she was playing volleyball professionally and knew nothing about bobsleigh. Today, she is Switzerland’s youngest active bob pilot and the country’s new hope for the female racing team. Meet Melanie Hasler, a 20-year-old with determination, big dreams and no fear!
Melanie stands at the top of the legendary St. Moritz-Celerina Olympia bob run. She is calm and focused. Today is an important day for her: she is competing at the annual Swiss Bobsleigh Championships. It is her second time participating. As the pilot she is in charge of bringing that gravity-powered, two-woman bobsleigh down the narrow, twisting ice track, reaching speeds of up to 135 kilometre per hour. Melanie knows that every fraction of a second counts. A good start is crucial. And finding the ideal pathway down the track, taking advantage of the centrifugal force that maintains the bob through the banked curves. Safely, but as fast as possible.
Sport has always been important in her life – but never winter sports
At 20 years of age, Melanie is currently one of Switzerland’s youngest female bobsleigh drivers competing at professional level. Thanks to her talent and ambition, she is also the country’s brightest bobsleigh hope. She combines all the attributes that a professional bobsleigher needs: skill, speed, strength - and fearlessness. Her biggest dream is to participate at the Olympic Winter Games, hopefully in 2022 in Beijing. That has not always been a dream of hers. At least not in a winter sport, let alone in bob racing.
Melanie grew up in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. She and her three older siblings were always encouraged to play sports by their parents. She took up volleyball, and her talent and physical strength became quickly apparent. She could jump high, she was good at blocking balls, and so she started playing for the Swiss National B League when she was just 15 years old. She liked playing volleyball, and trained and competed consistently in warm environments – on sand or indoors. Until two years ago, Melanie never thought of herself as a winter person. Nor was she particularly interested in winter sports.
And she had never paid much attention to bob racing. “All I knew about bobsleighing was what I had seen on TV or from the film ‘Cool Runnings’,’’ she says with a bright smile. “I had no idea what skill set was required to become a bob racer.” However, unknowingly, she fulfilled all the criteria, not least because her jumping power is so impressive. Discovered at a multi-sport camp by bobsleigh recruiters, they didn’t hesitate to try everything to convince the young volleyballer to join their ranks.
A different world
It is not uncommon for bobsleighers to come from all walks of athletic life. Quite often when they are being recruited, they have no knowledge of bobsleighing. What matters is speed, strength, agility, and a willingness to race down a steep, winding chute. Melanie felt intrigued and wanted to find out more about bob racing. She went to see the professionals train in St. Moritz, at the only natural ice bob track in the world. At one of the test trainings she met the German bobsleigh legend and Switzerland’s youth coach Christoph Langen. With several Olympic medals under his belt, Langen’s presence made Melanie slightly nervous, she remembers fondly. “His encouraging words, though, together with his contagious passion for this fast-paced sport made me want to try it out even more so,” Melanie explains.
The first time she tried it out and raced down the ice track as a brakeman was a very special moment in her life. It was the decisive moment in which she realised that “this was it”. She wanted to give bob racing a go and leave her career as a volleyballer behind her. A decision that she never regretted as the last two years have been an incredibly exciting – and successful - journey. In these two years, she has not only made the transition from brakeman to pilot after competing less than a season, she also won the Swiss Junior Championships in 2018. Becoming a bobsleigh professional has opened a completely different world to her.
Hard work pays off
Success doesn’t happen by accident. Melanie trains hard all year around. In summer the focus is on physical training sessions, in winter on sharpening the steering skills and improving the push at the start. Additionally, she and her team mates are responsible to keep the bob and the runners in shape, organise the logistics and manage the sponsorship agreements. A lot of hard work goes into being a professional pilot. Melanie does not mind working hard for it, she loves the challenge and the thrill that comes with bob racing. Particularly the thrill: “Feeling the adrenaline pumping through my body is an incredible feeling and I hope this will always remain that way. It teaches me to have respect for the extreme forces that play a role when steering the bobsleigh”, says Melanie.
Today, once again, Melanie stayed calm and focused. Without fear, but with great skill and even more speed, together with her team mate Jasmin Näf she raced the Olympia run in St. Moritz at the Swiss Championships, coming in second. A fantastic result that will hopefully bring her one step closer to fulfilling her Olympic dream.
Video production: Fabio Kobel / Scott McNamara