Teen Monobob Pilot Liam McKenna Is At Home On The Ice

by Bob Reinert

Liam McKenna prepares to compete during the men's monobob at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Jan. 23, 2024 in Gangwon, South Korea. (Photo by IBSF)

He might be a year and a half away from getting his driver’s license, but Liam McKenna is already comfortable steering through icy curves at speeds approaching 70 miles per hour.

That’s because the 14-year-old from Lunenburg, Massachusetts, has already been competing in bobsled for nearly half his life, and this month he made his Winter Youth Olympic Games debut in the men’s monobob event, finishing 18th on Tuesday in Gangwon, South Korea. McKenna posted a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 53.54 seconds — 4.91 seconds behind gold medalist So Jaehwan of South Korea. American teammate John Lansing was ninth in 1:51.22.

A hockey player growing up, McKenna decided he had to try luge after seeing that sport on TV during the Winter Olympics. He moved from that to bobsled, and he realized that he was done with hockey.

“I love this sport,” said McKenna of bobsled. “Hockey is more of an endurance, power sport. And luge and bobsled and skeleton (are) kind of like motorsport racing.”

McKenna is so devoted to the sport that he has been commuting from his hometown to the nearest bobsled course, which is in Lake Placid, New York, a roundtrip of about nine hours.

“We’ve been doing that for like six years,” he said. “I’m willing to drive as long as it takes just to do the sport.”

McKenna qualified for the Youth Olympic Games during a series of 12 races spanning over four different tracks on three different continents. At the Games, he and approximately 1,900 other athletes ages 15 to 18 get to enjoy an Olympic experience, including opening and closing ceremonies, an athletes’ village and, in this case, the opportunity to compete on some of the venues used during the 2018 Olympic Games.

“I love the track here,” McKenna said. “This is probably my favorite track besides Lake Placid. It’s really fun. It flows together. There’s a lot of little, quick, two-pressure curves. It’s really fun.”

McKenna said his goal in Gangwon was to turn in solid runs and come away knowing that he has put forth his best effort.

“I used to focus too much on the result,” he said. “Last year, when I was on the tour, I was focusing solely on the result, but I’ve kind of grown above that.”

Liam McKenna competes during the men's monobob at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Jan. 23, 2024 in Gangwon, South Korea. (Photo by Max McKenna)

The monobob — a one-person bobsled — made its Youth Olympic debut in 2016, and it became an Olympic sport for women in 2022. It’s seen as a more accessible version of the sport, as compared to the traditional two- and four-person sleds. However, with monobob opportunities limited at the men’s level, McKenna is already making the transition into two-man bobsled. He noted that he is currently the youngest athlete qualified to use the Lake Placid track from the top.

“It’s a lot more speed in the two-man because you have more weight in the back, and (it skids) a lot less,” he said. “In a monobob, there’s no weight in the back. The back end will swirl around and wiggle around. There’s a lot less of that (in a two-man bobsled). There’s a lot more pressure in the sled.

“In a two-man, when you hit a curve, it’ll feel like you’re getting sucked into that seat. Obviously, I love the feeling a lot more.”

In preparation for that move, McKenna’s family recently purchased a two-man bobsled once owned by 2022 U.S. Olympian Hunter Church. He and his father spent the summer working on it.

McKenna attends an online private school, which allows him more time during the day for training. Though he’s a good size for his age — 5-feet-10-inches and 180 pounds — he knows that he must get bigger and stronger to improve in the sport.

“I mostly need to focus on getting my pushing down, getting my pushing really fast,” he said. “I already have pretty good driving.”

Toward that end, McKenna employs a unique training technique: He pushes the family Chevy Equinox SUV 40 meters down his driveway with his dad, Max, in the driver’s seat with the vehicle in neutral.

“We kind of got creative with it,” McKenna said. “That grew into a training routine that I would do. I would just go out there and push the SUV. It’s really good for working on my (pushing) form. I can really focus on where my placement is when I have a slower, heavier object.”

He hopes that all his hard work will one day lead to competing in world cup events and at the Winter Olympics.

“I have a lot of things mapped out that I want to do,” McKenna said.