Better than Bolt? The fastest men on ice

Editor’s Note:

Story highlights

Kevin Kuske and Thomas Florschutz represent Germany at two-man bobsleigh

Kuske has won four Olympic gold medals and a silver

His speed off the mark is legendary and matches the great Usain Bolt

Florschutz is seeking his first gold at world and Olympic level

CNN  — 

He can legitimately claim to be the fastest man on ice, and Kevin Kuske could even give Usain Bolt a run for his money in a foot race over 30 meters.

The German bobsleigh superstar already has an imposing tally of four Olympic gold medals and seven world championship titles – and he’s looking for more.

Kuske and his two-man teammate Thomas Florschutz can reach speeds of up to 155 kilometers per hour (96 mph), as they hurtle down the high-speed turns and straights.

“It’s a speedy sport, a racing type of sport, it’s also known as the Formula One of the winter,” the 33-year-old Kuske told CNN’s Human to Hero series.

“There are accidents, I’ve crashed before and it’s definitely dangerous. Sometimes you crash really quickly and get serious injuries.

“Up to now, I’ve been lucky in my crashes although I’ve crashed pretty fast and had minor head injuries afterwards.”

Kuske is called the brakeman, but it’s a misleading title, because he only applies the brake to pull the sled up after the finish.

His main job is to push-start the bobsled in the first crucial moments, building momentum before jumping in and allowing the 34-year-old Florschutz to do the steering.

His explosive speed off the mark has seen him timed at 3.69 seconds for those opening 30 meters. By comparison, Jamaican sprint hero Bolt was clocked at 3.78 for the same distance on his way to gold in a record-breaking 100 meters time at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Sprinting prowess is one of the key ingredients in a successful bobsleigh team, which is why Jamaica famously dabbled in the sport at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, inspiring the 1993 hit film “Cool Runnings.”

Kuske actually started his sporting life as a track and field athlete of some note, claiming a bronze in Germany’s 4x100m relay squad at the 1998 world junior championships in Annecy in France.

His sheer bulk – weighing in at 120 kg as against 94 kg for Bolt – was always going to be a barrier on the track, and he was persuaded to try a new challenge by Germany’s national bobsled team coach Gerd Leopold.

It proved to be an inspired selection, and Kuske won his first Olympic gold medal at Salt Lake in 2002 as part of the victorious German four-man team.

Double gold followed in the two and four-man teams in Turin four years later, with his fourth gold in the two-man in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and a silver in the four-man.

Florschutz was a driver in the Germany II pair that took silver in the two-man in Canada and has now teamed up with Kuske to focus on going one better at the world championships next year in St. Moritz in Switzerland in January and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Punishing training

Despite their advancing years, the pair have a punishing regime, particularly in their “off” season.

“We’re winter sportsmen, who were made in summer. We have to sweat in the summer while others are lying down in the sun,” Florschutz said.

They train twice a day, six days a week, totaling about seven hours per day.

“Sunday is more laidback, just a bit of upper body strength. And we’ve got one unit that lasts three to four hours,” said Kuske.

The four-time Olympic champion concentrates on a mixture of strength training with weights and sprint training, often pulling a weight behind him for extra resistance.

Florschutz also has to play his part as they charge down the course, pushing a sled weighing 170 kg, so his training is along similar lines, but as the pilot or driver he has the responsibility to capitalize on the blistering start.

“The pilot is always the first one sitting in there,” he said, “so that you can get to the steering cords quickly and to be able to react quickly, too.”

Formula One feeling

Lightning-fast reflexes are indeed a prerequisite of the driver’s role, as the sled hurtles down an icy chute with the speed increasing all the time.

“I just try to drive straight down the track, but you really have to work together,” said Florschutz.

For Kuske’s part, his job is curl up into an aerodynamic position, not easy given his bulk, then flow with the rhythm going through the corners, supporting the driver with his weight – rather like a motorcycle pillion passenger.

“And of course braking at the right time, so as not to let the pilot get too terrified!” he said – unlike the “Cool Runnings” team who suffer a comical crash in the film after failing to stop at the end of the run.

The F1 comparison begins and ends with the speed comparison, because unlike a Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton, the pair have to repair and “fine tune” their own bobsled rather than having a massive team of mechanics to assist them.

And despite being at the top of their sport, both have trained for other professions – Florschutz is a policeman while Kuske is in the German Federal Defense Force (the “Bundeswehr.”)

German domination

They are seeking to continue the level of domination achieved by the German men’s bobsleigh teams in world and Olympic championships.

Since Kuske’s first Winter Games in 2002, German two-man teams have won three straight golds, achieving a 1-2 finish at Vancouver 2010.

In the four-man event, two gold medals were followed by a silver behind the U. S. quartet – which, strangely given his winning record, Kuske rates as his most memorable achievement.

“The best was the silver medal in Vancouver. We had the best start times but we almost fell on our side on one run,” he said.

“To pull that back and win the silver by one-hundredth (of a second, from Canada) was for me an emotional eruption, as it was truly hard earned.”

Kuske came from a strong sporting background – both his parents were in the German national track and field team – and they encouraged him to go one better.

“We had a family dream to go to the Olympics. When you’re sitting in front of the TV and watching the Olympic Games, and you have sporty parents, that’s naturally a big dream for you, because the Olympics are the biggest event there is,” he said.

“Naturally it became more than a dream, at the first Olympics with the gold medal, and that was really my greatest goal, which I fulfilled pretty quickly, but it didn’t stop there.”

Golden focus

His longevity and medal haul have seen him earn celebrity status in Germany, while Florschutz has won three world championship silvers and Olympic silver in Vancouver.

He is hoping his partnership with Kuske, formed after the great German driver Andre Lange retired, will see him earn that elusive gold.

“Our biggest aim is to become the world champions and to become Olympic champions. We’re a strong team. We’ve got every chance to be the best in the world with this team.”