Before Bonny Warner, America's brightest hope for an Olympic medal in luge, takes an icy roller-coaster ride on her sled, she puts on layer upon layer of clothes: underpants and undershirt, a T-shirt, a long-sleeved turtleneck over that, two pairs of long Johns and two pairs of socks.
Next comes the 12-inch-wide elastic band called a girdle. Warner uses it to flatten her breasts. "Better aerodynamics." she says.
She steps into two cord loops and pulls them up to her thighs. From the loops she runs two lines up the front of her body and clips them to her helmet; this prevents her head from snapping back as she encounters tremendous G-forces in the curves of the luge run.
Then she puts on a 15-pound weight vest. Warner is 5'8", 160 pounds, one of the stockiest women in luge, but the extra weight creates a little more friction between the ice and her 48-pound sled and, thus, a faster ride—by, oh, a few hundredths of a second. In world-class luge competition that can mean the difference between first and fifth place.
Warner pulls on boots made of foam and rubber over her two pairs of socks, and then, behind each knee, she wraps a Velcro strip with rubber surgical tubing attached. She hooks the back of her boots to the tubing to keep her toes pointed forward as she whips feet-first down the run. Another aerodynamic trick. Then she wrestles her body into the tight one-piece Lycra suit that gives a luger that extraterrestrial look.
To protect her exposed parts from the bumpy ride, Warner inserts rubber pads, across her forearms and on the outsides of her upper arms, between her suit and her underclothes. Next she puts on a helmet and fastens it to the harness. Then she flips down the face mask.
Finally come the pigskin gloves. Under the tips of the gloves' first three fingers she affixes small metal spikes. When she begins her descent down the track. Warner will dig her hands into the ice to give additional propulsion to her start.
Mind you, all of this preparation doesn't mean that Warner will be the best-dressed luger in Calgary. Far from it. She and the other members of the U.S. team frequently make their own gear and mend their bright blue suits with carpet tape. Their flimsy sleds are usually hand-me-downs held together by electrical tape.
But the no-frills nature of this sport fits the down-to-earth Warner, a woman who made it in luge from the bottom up. At 25 she is the best American luger ever and ranks among the top five women in the world. She finished 15th in the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo. Last year at Lake Placid. Warner was the first U.S. luger, male or female, to win a World Cup race, and she finished the season tied for third in the overall standings, also a U.S. milestone.
Warner's success is remarkable because only 250 Americans compete in the sport, and there is only one refrigerated track in the country, at Lake Placid. She has made it her mission to try to change those figures and for the past seven years she has been a big promoter and money-raiser for luge in the U.S.