ROSA KHUTOR, Russia Like the handful of skeleton athletes who design their own sled, Britain's "Dr Ice" is seeking the ultimate ride. Kristan Bromley is more qualified than most but his search for the "perfect sled" continues.
With an Engineering Honours degree, Bromley wrote a thesis on "Factors affecting the performance of skeleton bobsleds" and has also worked as an aerospace engineer.
The 2008 world and European skeleton champion, 41, has spent his years in the sport designing and refining his sleds - and hopes he has come up with his best yet to bid for a medal in what will be his fourth and final Olympics.
"There isn't a perfect sled in one design, but there is certainly a perfect sled for every athlete and I don't think we'll ever stop looking to find it," he told Reuters.
"You can always get faster - it's more about syncing the sled to the athlete. We've all got slightly different styles of riding, and it's more about me tuning into the track and the sled being the interface between those two."
To the untrained eye one steel sled looks more or less like another. Think again. With sliders flinging themselves head-first down an icy chute at breakneck speed, each top-of-the range sled - and runner, are the product of high-precision engineering.
Aerodynamics are key, much like in Formula One with the search for the best materials and technologies to create less drag a continual, and expensive process.
"Development costs behind sleds can hit hundreds of thousands of pounds," added Bromley, the partner of Britain's 2006 Olympic silver medallist Shelley Rudman who is among the leading contenders for women's skeleton gold at these Games.
"Just because of the nature of research and development - wind tunnels cost money, understanding ice friction in the lab costs money."
Bromley earned his "Dr Ice" nickname when he travelled back from the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 with a bobsled full of water to freeze and study as part of his degree.
"I brought the water back. One thing we realised early on was Britain had no information about anything," he said.
"We had a blank paper, myself and my PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) tutor back at Nottingham University, so we found out everything about water and ice...how it freezes, its structure, its mechanical nature."
How his conclusions relate to skeleton racing and sled design are not for public broadcast.
"That's a secret," he smiled.
Bromley believes he and his rivals who design their own sled - Latvia's gold medal favourite Martins Dukurs also does - hold an advantage.
"Its a recipe that's been very successful for athletes throughout the history of skeleton.
"Those that build their sleds understand the changes and can bring new designs in faster and more effectively - a combination of skills that have helped me to win a lot of titles in my career."
The time has come, though "to stop thinking and just slide".
Sixth at the Vancouver Games, Bromley comes to Sochi in hopeful mood but with "no expectations of myself".
"I'm on a brand new sled. We've ridden it in a couple of World Cup races in run up to this to give it time to bed in. I'm pretty happy with where we are at.
"I wouldn't say I had a perfect one, as a scientist and engineer you can never have perfect. I'd like to think I've got a package now that is connected for me and hopefully bring me my best result this season."
The men's skeleton competition starts on Friday and ends on Saturday.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)
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