Bobsleigh in Belgium – How it started?
Bobsleigh officially became a sport in 1897 with the creation of the first club in Sankt Moritz, Switzerland. Already before the First World War, bobsleigh was introduced in Belgium, in the region of Spa-Malchamps, with a first race at the end of January 1911. There were 35 bobsleds at the start, and the track was 1700 meters long and was built on the Route de la Sauvenière (between Malchamps and Le Champ de Courses).
In 1913, the first Belgian Bobsleigh Club was founded by Jean Simonis (Chairman) and J. Houben (Vice-Chairman).
At the Olympic Games in 1924, bobsleigh became an Olympic discipline and the Belgian four-man bob won bronze in Chamonix with Charles Mulder, René Mortiaux, Paul Van den Broeck and Victor Verschuren, Henri Willems went as a reserve.
Later in 1929 competitions were held near Spa on the Rexhons track, where horses were used to bring the sled back up the mountain. The first real bobsleigh track came in December 1938 with a length of 1000 meters, a width of 1.80 meters and a decrease of 14%.
In 1948 the Belgian four-man bobsled won a silver medal in Sankt Moritz, this time the pilot was Max Houben with pushers Freddy Mansveld, Louis-Georges Niels and Jacques Mouvet.
A new start in 2007 – Introducing The Belgian Bullets
What seemed like a crazy idea in 2007 was taken up by Geert Vanvaerenbergh as a challenge: bringing a bobsleigh team to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, not any bobsleigh team, a Belgian one.
Geert convinced six Flemish ladies who had never seen a bobsleigh before, and told them there was no excuse not to qualify for the bobsleigh competition in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The athletes were prepared by top coach Rudi Diels and the scientific team of the KU Leuven in a full program with three consecutive goals : the first European Cup in Winterberg, then the World Championship in Lake Placed to finish with a qualification for the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.
An Olympic qualification is achieved in 8 World Cup races in which Belgian has to cross the finish line at least twice as eighth. In the end, former javellinthrower Elfje Willemsen and former hurdle-walker Eva Willemarck secured a ticket to Vancouver, where they achieved a magnificent 14th place. The general public was able to follow the entire process closely thanks to the triptych program that Canvas broadcast for this occasion.
After Vancouver a new challenge was taken on, this time to compete in the Winter Games in Sochi. A new top athlete was recruited to obtain this goal : the silver (later gold) medal winner Hanna Mariën (Beijing 2008 – 4x 100m relay). And yes, here too the team succeeded : with their goal to come in eighth, the ladies finished in sixth place, after they had been in fourth place for some time. Hanna also realized her dream of being the first Belgian athlete to participate in both the Summer and Winter Games.
After the Sochi Games, The Belgian Bullets started working hard for the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018. For the first time The Belgian Bullets had 2 bobsleigh teams selected and even one Skeletoni.
Elfje Willemsen participated in her thrid Olympic Games, this time together with Sara Aerts, top athlete in heptathlon, as a brakewomen, they finished 11th.
Our second team lead by An Vannieuwenhuyse with Sophie Vercruyssen as brakewomen finished 12th
End of an era – What does the future hold?
In December 2018 Elfje Willemsen decided to retire from professional bobsleighing, with her the last original Belgian Bullet dissapeared. However, the future looks bright for our athletes as with An Vannieuwenhuysse the team has a talented driver.
Apart from bobsleigh, Belgium also has a bright future ahead in Skeleton with Skeletoni Kim Meylemans, she finished 14th at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. Kim Meylemans is not the only Skeletoni competing for Belgium, there are currently three other athletes active, one male and two female. They currently represent Belgium on the Intercontinental and Europa Cup level.
Our youngest two athletes, Aline Pelckmans and Colin Freeling, competed in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Sankt Moritz, Switzerland.
Today our athletes are working hard to prepare for the next Olympic Games in Beijing 2022