Bobsleigh-Rivals face an uphill struggle against Germany's talent, funds and tech

2022 Beijing Olympics - Bobsleigh - 2-man Heat 1 - National Sliding Centre, Beijing, China - February 14, 2022. Francesco Friedrich of Germany and Thorsten Margis of Germany in action. REUTERS/Edgar Su

YANQING, China, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Germany not only lead the pack halfway through the two-man bobsleigh in the Olympics on Monday - they also held second and fourth places, underlining the dominance of the country that is home to a quarter of world's the bobsleigh tracks.

Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis clocked 1:58.38 on two laps, 0.15 seconds ahead of team mates Johannes Lochner and Florian Bauer and 0.94 seconds ahead of a Russian Olympic Committee team.

Friedrich lifted his fourth overall World Cup title in a row last month and along with Margis, boast golds from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in the two-man competition, where they tied with Canada's Justin Kripps and Cam Stones for first place, and the four man-event.

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Germany have won six out of seven available golds so far in Beijing. But along with abundant talent, Germany can marshal resources that are the envy of their rivals.

When the Jamaican team were unable to compete in a European competition last month due to a member contracting COVID-19, the team had to do runs by a highway to stay prepared, brakeman Nimroy Turgott told Reuters.

Around the same time, Germany could utilize BMW's special bobsleigh simulation, complete with the Yanqing track, to help prepare, using materials found in rocket engines, the company boasted.

Bobsleigh attracts large audiences TV audiences in Germany. German sponsors are also the most generous among the winter sport federations, with Adidas, Allianz and Toyota Germany all behind Team Deutschland.

But their rivals must often fund themselves or find their own sponsors, not an easy feat when a two-person bobsleigh can cost upwards of 75,000 euros ($84,847.50).

Austrian pilot Benjamin Maier, who is in fifth place at the half way mark, is also sponsored by Friedrich, who has acted as a sponsor for the last four seasons in a bid to help the "bobsleigh family". His name adorns Maier's sled.

"The reward (for sponsorship) is that your name gets printed on the sled," Maier said. "Francesco thought it would be funny if his name was on my sled, so everything kind of started out as a joke."

EQUIPMENT COSTS

Since bobsleigh broadly costs a four-man team around 400,000 euros ($452,520) in an Olympic year and 250,000 euros in other years, most teams need all the help they can get, Maier added.

Kripps and the rest of Canada's four-man team competes in Germany's old bobsleigh from that competition after buying it second hand.

"Friedrich helps other people out and I don't think the sled thing was a charity thing, to be honest," Kripps said. "He could have easily sat on it and sold it after the Games."

British pilot Brad Hall, who currently sits in eleventh, said racing Germany is an uphill struggle.

"They've definitely got a massive advantage, they've pumped millions of pounds into their research and development every year like an F1 team, so their two-man sleds are definitely faster than anyone else's," Hall said.

Along with equipment costs, transporting the bobsleds themselves is no mean feat, with Jamaica spending around $40,000 to get its kit to the Games and back, said Chris Stokes, chairman of the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation.

Jamaica shipped their gear before the team qualified, giving them more time to ship and avoid costs that would have been three times higher, said Joshua Gordon, a director at Rock-it Cargo, who handles Jamaica and Canada.

($1 = 0.8839 euros)

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Reporting by David Kirton; Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann Editing by Christian Radnedge

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