British Bobsleigh team quits World Cup race over horror injury to Swiss brakeman

Swiss brakeman Sandro Michel (left) and pilot Michael Vogt/British Bobsleigh team quits World Cup race over horror injury to Swiss brakeman
Swiss brakeman Sandro Michel (left) suffered 'unacceptable' injuries when his four-man sled crashed in Altenburg - Oksana Dzada

Britain’s bobsleigh team has withdrawn en masse from this weekend’s World Cup race in Germany in protest at what it claims were “sub-par safety protocols” following an “avoidable accident” suffered by Swiss bobsledder Sandro Michel.

Michel, 27, had to undergo emergency hip and thigh surgery and remains in hospital following a crash in practice in Altenberg on Tuesday which then saw Switzerland’s brakeman run over by his own sled.

Michel had been lying on the track after being thrown from the sled, which according to Swiss Sliding, then rammed into him after “uncontrollably sliding back from the finish area”.

Britain’s team, led by pilot Brad Hall, said in a statement on social media that it was withdrawing in solidarity, calling on the governing body to make safety improvements.

“This needs to change,” read the statement. “There are tracks like Whistler and Sigulda who have exceptional staffing to make sure sleds are caught and athlete safety is adhered to insofar as it is possible to do so. Why is this not the case at every track?

“This is not a witch-hunt or finger pointing exercise. It is simply to show how seriously we take it, and how necessary an overhaul of safety protocols is.”

Swiss Sliding said in a statement that Michel, who was airlifted to hospital in Dresden, was in a stable condition. “Further examinations today [Wednesday] will determine the extent of Sandro Michel’s injuries, including those to his chest,” it added. “Pilot Michael Vogt suffered a severe concussion and bruises. The other pushers, Dominik Hufschmid and Andreas Haas, were also slightly injured.”

Swiss Sliding said it was up to their other teams if they wanted to continue training and whether to compete at the World Cup event and that “an investigation into the cause of the accident has been initiated at the Altenberg bobsled track”.

Team Hall’s statement added that the British team was arranging a meeting for this Friday for athletes to put forward any safety concerns to international governing body IBSF.

“Whether it’s crashed sled protocols, mandatory burns vests, dangerous outrun redesign and more, we need to see tangible change,” they said. “Today was an accident literally waiting to happen because of the approach to catching, or not catching, crashed sleds at this track. This must change.”

An International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (IBSF) statement read: “During the official bobsleigh World Cup training in Altenberg, Germany, on February 13th, 2024, the 4-man bobsleigh of the Swiss pilot Michael Vogt crashed.

“As a result, the brakeman Sandro Michel fell of the sled and was run over by the bobsleigh which was uncontrollably sliding back from the finish area. The medical team on-site took the necessary steps to take care of the injured athletes.”

It added: “The IBSF is in close contact with SwissSliding and wishes the athletes concerned a speedy and full recovery. The official training will continue today and the races will be held according to schedule.”

In a statement, OC chief of the World Cup in Altenberg and CEO of Wintersport Altenberg , the company which operates the Altenberg track, said: “The safety of athletes in the sport of bobsleigh is a fundamental issue at all tracks around the world, not only in Altenberg. Unfortunately, crashes are part of this sport, and all athletes are aware of that. The fact that the Swiss bobsleigh team’s training crash resulted in such serious injuries is a tragedy that leaves us deeply shocked and saddened.

“But I must emphasise: As World Cup organisers and track operators, we have always done everything in our power to ensure the safety of the athletes - and will continue to do so in the future. We firmly reject the accusation that there were inadequate safety precautions. All safety measures taken and adhered to in Altenberg comply with the regulations of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation [IBSF].”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.