Tuesday, 27 March 2018

James Bond and the Cresta Run

The skeleton event at the recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang represented a notable British success, with medal wins for Lizzy Yarnold, Laura Deas and Dom Parsons. In an article in The Times, Matt Dickinson considers the background to that success, reminding readers that the sport was invented by British winter sports enthusiasts (or, as Matt Dickinson puts it, madcap aristocrats). The Cresta Run, the famous ice track in St Moritz devoted to the skeleton, was built in 1884 by the St Moritz Tobogganing Club. The 1928 and 1948 Olympics saw medal successes in the skeleton on the Cresta for the British team before the event was removed from the Olympic programme.
The Cresta Run. Photo: Christophe95 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This history is reflected in the novel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963). In chapter 11 ('Death for Breakfast'), while at Piz Gloria, Bond is woken by a scream of a SPECTRE agent, Bertil, who had been pushed down the bob-run in punishment for forcing himself on Sarah, one of the ‘patients’ of Blofeld’s clinic. 

Bond considers the scene of Bertil’s uncontrolled descent along the icy track. Bond had himself experienced something of the terror of the bob-run, having once tried the Cresta Run from ‘top’. Even helmeted and padded up, the run had been for Bond ‘sixty seconds of naked fear’.

Later, Bond sees for himself the scene of death at the Gloria Express bob-run. A map of the course points out the curves and the hazards, which Bond notes are labelled in English, among them Dead Man’s Leap, Whizz-Bang Straight, and Hell’s Delight, ‘in deference to the English traditions at the sport’. At the book’s thrilling climax, Bond would take a skeleton down the Gloria Express in pursuit of Blofeld. 

The references to the skeleton in the novel are minor, but they nevertheless fit with the development of the sport. They also place an element of Bond’s background in the context of the English ‘madcap aristocrats’ and adventurers, or perhaps ‘the British military’, which Matt Dickinson notes was largely responsible for keeping the sport going after it ceased to be an Olympic event.

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