The Calgary Winter Olympics, back in 1988, were an entertaining affair. First, there was the national joke that was Eddie the Eagle – one of those lovable British losers that we produce with seemingly worrying regularity. He did get a bit annoying after a while, but ski jumping takes real balls and, although every Canadian who mentioned him collapsed with laughter, he deserves some respect.
He's about to get relaunched into the limelight as there is, apparently, a film about his exploits in the pipeline. That would be the second film to be made about the Calgary Games. They were also the venue for the legendary Cool Runnings – the amusing amateur exploits of the Jamaican bobsleigh team.
I knew very little about bobsleigh except that it seemed to be extremely dangerous. This has all changed in the last seven days. Last week, I was in the heart-stoppingly beautiful area of Lake Louise in Alberta. I was taking part in a celebrity winter sports invitational along with proper famous people like John McEnroe, Alec Baldwin and Peter Fonda.
It was all very curious and actually quite low-key sports-wise. There was a downhill slalom competition, a snowshoe and toboggan relay and an ice hockey match. I stayed out of the ice hockey as I can't skate – I look like a fish on land when I try. This was fortunate as it got quite hairy – Gord Downie, the lead singer of a band called The Tragically Hip, took a vicious puck to his eye that left him in hospital with stitches.
I was having a fabulous time but I needed an adrenalin fix. I got chatting to a couple of locals who mentioned that the Calgary Olympic park let people do the occasional bobsleigh run. The next morning I was in a car and on my way to Calgary with a couple of accomplices.
After a two-hour drive we arrived at the park which, from the outside, looked more like a building site. We drove past the now defunct ski jumps that had made Eddie famous. Ski jumping technology has, apparently, moved on so they are no longer in use, but you can zip-line from the top of them, should you so desire.
Normally, I would have gone for that but I was on a higher mission. Round the next corner and there it was – the bobsleigh run – an icy tunnel of death. It looked insane. We got a brief safety talk – "You'll feel up to 5G on the turns, not unlike looping the loop in a jet fighter. You'll find it difficult to breathe. Keep your head down, hands tucked beside you and, if we tip over then there's nothing we can do, we have to slide to the end and hope..."
I was petrified but luckily everything happened really quickly and, five minutes later, after we'd signed some worrying-looking legal waivers, we were squeezed into the torpedo ... sorry, bobsleigh. It's just a hollow tube with three cushions to sit on. We had nothing to do but sit and panic. In front of us, there was the driver, Brian, a former Olympic competitor. He showed me how he controlled the sled – two pieces of string attached to the front skates – this was hardly high-tech.
Three burly guys pushed us hard and we were off. The first three turns were actually quite enjoyable – a bit like doing a roller coaster in a sardine can. The fourth turn, however, was extraordinary. We suddenly picked up huge amounts of speed and everything went a bit blurry. There is no way you can comprehend the speed by seeing it on television – it is mind-blowing. The G-force is so great that you can feel air being forced out of your lungs and you can't breathe in. There was no time to worry about a turn because you were straight into another one. How the driver was controlling this was beyond me – he said it was all about tiny little movements.
Forty seconds in and I was praying for it all to end. If we went over then there was no way that I could see us surviving. What was I doing? I had a wife and kids. We hit a top speed of 120kph and I thought that I was going to pass out.
At 59 seconds, I sensed us going uphill and felt a juddering – it was over. We ground to a halt and nothing happened for 10, maybe 20, seconds. Nobody said anything or moved. Five days later, I'm still in shock and getting over the rush – unbelievable.
Kaka is potty
All this fuss about Kaka. I know it's childish but I can't help but giggle. Growing up in Beirut – the word Kaka means a No 2 in the loo department.