bobsled

The Olympic four-man bobsled competition begins Saturday in Sochi, and everyone has spent the last four years chasing Team USA, the defending gold medalist.

What have the Americans done to stay on top? Trained hard, of course, and enlisted the help of Waltham-based SolidWorks, whose three-dimensional design software enabled the team to build its fastest sled ever.

“Night Train 1 is still a good sled, but Night Train 2 is even better,” said a confident Geoff Bodine, who has been building Team USA’s Olympic bobsleds since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer. “We’re ready to rock and roll.”

Until now, Bodine and his team have had to build a new prototype every time they make design changes — an expensive and laborious process.

“SolidWorks lets them model the entire sled in 3-D, and then rather than having to build a physical prototype and test it, they can test it on the computer,” explained SolidWorks senior project manager Craig Therrien. “That’s a huge advantage.”

The company donated software to the team and trained its technicians, but even SolidWorks doesn’t know exactly how Bodine’s crew used the program.

“This stuff is like black ops,” Therrien said, laughing.

Strict design parameters limit the changes Bodine can make to speed up the sled, so even slight tweaks are treated like state secrets — especially in a sport where victory may be measured in hundredths of a second.

He did reveal, however, that Night Train 2 is 50 pounds lighter than the original Night Train used four years ago, and that designers spent more time on handling than on aerodynamics because the track in Sochi is slower than the one in Vancouver.

The Russian team will be tough to beat at home, Bodine conceded, but he likes Team USA’s chances this weekend.

“I don’t want to sound cocky or overconfident, but we really feel like we have the equipment that our athletes need to win,” he said.

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