Ferriani’s naked ambition pays dividends

Picture by Getty

For a country with a rich tradition in winter sport, France had endured a disappointing record in Olympic bobsleigh. The country’s athletes had never won a single medal in the discipline, but with one run remaining in the four-man in

Nagano, the quartet of Bruno Mingeon, Emmanuel Hostache, Eric Le Channoy and Max Robert found themselves within touching distance of the podium. As it turned out, their star performer turned out to be someone who wasn't even in the bob – coach Ivo Ferriani.

As his team prepared themselves for a final push, Ferriani wanted to think of a clever way of encouraging them to achieve something special. So he came up with a very original incentive: Ferriani promised that, if the team managed to finish among the medals, he would run through the snow in his underwear.

He knew all too well the pressure his athletes were under. He had competed for Italy in the 1988 Games in Calgary, finishing 19th in the two-man. While he had won medals at the European junior championships and in Italian national events, he had finished on the podium in a major international competition at senior level.

He had enjoyed far greater success as a coach. France had taken a World Championship bronze in 1995 and would later go to take a gold medal in the four-man in 1999. But it is for the 1998 Games that his coaching prowess is remembered, and for that famous bet.

The wager, which was duly accepted by pilot Mingeon, gave his team a laugh and the chance to release some pressure – and perhaps a bit of extra motivation. France went quickest of all in the third and final run, pushing themselves up from sixth to joint third place, securing a first ever bobsleigh medal as they joined Great Britain on the rather crowded third step of the podium.

True to his word, Ferriani then emerged into the snow wearing just boots, underwear and a cowboy hat, and ran to complete his victory dance.