All you need to know about the 2020/21 IBSF Bobsleigh and Skeleton season

Your one-stop shop for the season ahead, including the World Cup schedule, athletes to watch, latest news and more.

By Andrew Binner

Bobsleigh and skeleton are back, as the IBSF World Cup season gets underway in Sigulda, Latvia on 20 November.

As with most other winter sports, the coronavirus pandemic has caused plenty of disruption to the calendar with all races - except the season finale in Yanqing which doubles up as a Beijing 2022 test event - now being staged in Europe.

The Team USA sliders will only join the World Cup in 2021, meaning that fans will have to wait until the second half of the season to see the likes of double Olympic champion bobsledder Kaillie Humphries and the returning Elana Meyers Taylor in action.

Can anyone challenge the dominance of German veteran Francesco Friedrich? Expect him and fellow PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist Mariama Jamanka to be in the hunt for top spot once again.

Over in skeleton, reigning Olympic champion Sungbin Yun, Martins Dukurs and Alexander Tretiakov will renew their rivalry at the top, while PyeongChang silver medallist Jacqueline Loelling and Janine Flock are among the women to watch.

With less than 15 months to go before the Beijing 2022 Games, there is an exciting mix of returning stars and highly-rated youngsters, plus some emerging Chinese athletes hoping to challenge for top honours.

Without further ado, here's our guide to everything you need to know about the 2020/2021 IBSF World Cup season.

Schedule changes for the 2020/21 IBSF season

February’s World Championships were moved from Lake Placid in the United States to Altenberg in Germany due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning the vast majority of the season will now take place in Europe.

"The decision wasn't easy as you can imagine. The bulk of athletes competing in the championships are based in Europe, so our strategy was to have less time spent in quarantine,” said Heike Groesswang, secretary general of the IBSF.

It is expected that Lake Placid, a two-time Winter Olympic Games host, will be awarded the 2025 IBSF World Championships instead.

In order to minimise athletes' travel, the first two World Cup events will take place on consecutive weekends in Sigulda, Latvia, before the third and fourth legs are hosted in Igls (near Innsbruck), Austria.

With Sigulda unable to host four-man bobsleigh races, and the IBSF deciding not to stage any four-man events in Igls due to the limited number of athletes present, the 2020/21 season will see 12 two-man events with just four four-man races.

USA to sit out first half of season due to COVID

As a result of the World Championships decision, bobsleigh and skeleton fans will have to wait until 2021 to see the American athletes in action.

In October, the USA Bobsled and Skeleton announced that its sliders would not compete for the first half of the season "to minimize travel, reduce quarantine periods, and provide the safest environment possible" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of competing at the first two World Cup events in Sigulda and Igls, Team USA will hold domestic trial races in Lake Placid.

After a short break, the team will head to Park City for another two weeks of training followed by another round of trials.

Elana Meyers Taylor returns

This season sees the return of three-time bobsleigh Olympic medallist Elana Meyers Taylor.

The American took a break last season to give birth to son Nico, who was born prematurely with Down syndrome in February 2020, and is champing at the bit to return to action.

Meyers Taylor wants to inspire other parents who have children with special needs, and is desperate to win gold medals at Beijing 2022 in the two-person bob and the monobob which will make its Olympic debut.

The inaugural Women's Monobob World Series comprises nine rounds with the first in Winterberg on 5th December.

St. Moritz is one of the stops on the tour having staged sliding competitions, including boys and girls' monobob, at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

“This is a whole new world for us,” Meyers Taylor told Team USA. “But I’m going to figure out how to do this and still be an elite-level bobsledder. For parents out there who have been given a prenatal diagnosis and are wondering if they can make it work, my goal is to show them that they can, even if they’re traveling around the world.”

If she makes the USA team, her first World Cup event will probably be January’s event in Winterberg, Germany.

But making the USA bobsleigh team is no easy feat.

Among her rivals will be reigning world champion Kaillie Humphries, who won two Olympic golds and a bronze in the two-woman sled for Canada before switching allegiance to the USA.

Competing for her new nation, Humphries won gold at the 2020 World Championships alongside Meyers Taylors' PyeongChang partner Lauren Gibbs in Altenberg.

Olympic Channel spoke to both women before PyeongChang (where Meyers Taylor and Gibbs won silver ahead of Humphries and Phylicia George) to find out a bit more about their rivalry.

Having missed out on PyeongChang, former sprint hurdles star Lolo Jones is in Lake Placid as she bids to make her return to the Winter Olympic Games.

Jones and driver Jazmine Fenlator were 11th at Sochi 2014 where Humphries and Heather Moyse retained their Olympic title.

The 38-year-old will get the chance to make her case for inclusion in the national team with two two-woman bob runs taking place this weekend (14 and 15 November) before a third run on 20 November.

There are just two two-man runs, on the 14th and 15th of November, and one four-man run on 20th November.

The three skeleton runs will be held on the 16th, 19th and 20th of November.

Francesco Friedrich heads up star-studded Germany bobsleigh team

Germany are one of the most consistent teams across all sliding sports, and 2020/21 will surely see them dominate the podiums once more in bobsleigh.

Double Olympic men's champion Francesco Friedrich, who claimed his sixth consecutive two-man World Cup series title last season before pipping compatriot Johannes Lochner for top spot in the four-man rankings, will be the favourite once more.

PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist Mariama Jamanka is a mainstay of the women’s team, but she will be pushed every step of the way by last season’s World Cup champion Stephanie Schneider.

The German women’s programme is in great shape at the moment, and it will be fascinating to see who clinches the three spots on their team with 2019 world silver medallist Kim Kalicki returning back to top form and two-time world champion Annika Drazek returning from injury.

Skeleton: Can Olympic champion Sungbin Yun gain redemption?

That is always the question in skeleton as Korea’s reigning men’s Olympic champion Sungbin Yun (who famously wore an Iron Man-themed helmet in PyeongChang 2018), and two-time Olympic silver medallist Martins Dukurs, aka Latvia’s Super Man, lock horns.

Together with Russia’s and Alexander Tretiakov, the trio have dominated skeleton’s podiums for the past six years, and show no signs of stopping ahead of Beijing 2022.

Dukurs won the overall World Cup title last season with Tretiakov in second.

Yun was third after underperforming at the start of the year due to a back injury, and will be keen to improve on that showing this season.

One man who could threaten the big three is Great Britain’s Marcus Wyatt.

The Briton is one of the best starters in the field and improving with every race.

On the women’s side, Germany boasts two of the strongest contenders in reigning World Cup holder Jacqueline Loelling and five-time world champion Tina Hermann.

Also keep an eye out for Canada’s Elisabeth Maier, returning from giving birth and rumoured to be in flying form, and Switzerland’s Marina Gilardoni, who looks to have overcome injury problems and secured silver in the 2020 World Championships behind Hermann.

With double Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold now retired, PyeongChang bronze medallist Laura Deas heads the British challenge.

Deas pipped Austria's Janine Flock for a podium place in Korea, and the three-time European champion is sure to be in the mix again along with Russia's Elena Nikitina.

Wenqiang Geng leads China’s raw talent

Since winning the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, China has been on a mission to upskill their winter athletes.

One of their top hopes for a medal is skeleton slider Geng Wenqiang, who won his nation’s first ever medal in last season’s World Cup.

But there is some great competition for places brewing for the Asian nation, which is bursting with raw talent.

In 2018, skeleton athlete Yan Wengang became the first Chinese athlete to win a race in the IBSF Europe Cup, and will also be hoping to kick on in 2020-21.

Without doubt, the highlight of this year’s world cup for Chinese athletes will be the last leg on the Olympic track in Yanqing, which will serve as a test event for Beijing.

Skeleton athlete Geng Wenqiang will be hoping to medal on home ice at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games

2020/21 IBSF Bobsleigh & Skeleton calendar

  • 20-22 & 27-29 Nov 2020 - Double World Cup, Sigulda (Latvia) - 2-man bob, skeleton
  • 11-13 & 18-20 Dec 2020 - Double World Cup, Igls (Austria) - 2-man bob, monobob, skeleton
  • 8-10 Jan 2021 - World Cup and European Champs, Winterberg (Germany) - 2-man and 4-man bob, skeleton
  • 15-17 Jan 2021 - World Cup, St. Moritz (Switzerland) - 2-man and 4-man bob, monobob, skeleton
  • 22-24 Jan 2021 - World Cup, Konigssee (Germany) - 2-man and 4-man bob, monobob, skeleton
  • 5-7 & 11-14 Feb 2021 - World Championships - Altenberg (Germany)
  • 12-14 Mar 2021 - World Cup, Yanqing (China) - 2-man and 4-man bob, monobob, skeleton