Friday, March 5, 2010

The Highs and Lows of Whistler’s Sliding Centre

By now Y’all know that USA-1’s 4-man Night Train Bobsled driven by Steve Holcomb has ended America’s 62yr drought of winning the Gold medal in this prestigious winter event, as Holcomb not only made history by accomplishing this, he also set two brand new track records in the process during Day 1’s first half of the event, enroute to capturing America’s first Gold medal in the 4-Man Bobsleigh in 62 years…

Yet, unfortunately the just concluded XXI Winter Olympics at Vancouver, BC will most likely be remembered as the venue where 21yr old Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was fatally killed in a training accident just hours prior to the Opening ceremonies of the Winter Games.

And the track was obviously deluged with many critics, including Team USA female Bobsledder Shauna Rohbock exclaiming that the Whistler Sliding Centre’s track was simply “Stupidly Fast!”

And there was much carnage during the Bobsledding events, which I don’t know if any of the women’s teams suffered crashes? Although the 2-Man Bobsled saw at least three sleds crash during practice, not to mention Australia and Switzerland withdrawing from competition and a further four sleds barrel rolling during the first day’s competition.

The 4-man Bobsled competition wasn’t any less daunting, as a total of six sleds crashed on Day 1, nearly 25% of the sleds entered… While Liechtenstein, Netherlands and USA all withdrew from competition, as both Liechtenstein’s pilot Michael Klingler and the USA-2’s John Napier Suffered injuries during competition.

But it was the Netherland’s pilot Edwin van Calker who I think had the most courage of the entire event, as he sensibly told his coach that he simply was too “RATTLED” to compete in the 4-man event, claiming he simply lacked the necessary confidence to continue on.

van Calker had previously crashed during 2-man practice and then struggled mightily every time down the course thru the infamous Turn 13 which was nicknamed 50-50 by no less then Steve Holcomb after crashing during a training run when Teams first tested the circuit back in 2009, as Holcomb noted that only half of the sled’s were making it thru the overly fast corner…

Yet apparently van Calker is already receiving ridicule for withdrawing from the Games and bearing the brunt of bad jokes like: “Why did the chicken cross the bobsled track?” Yet no less than the reigning Swiss World Champion was forced to withdraw due to a concussion obtained during the 2-man event, while nobody seems to be belaboring Switzerland’s other pilot withdrawing for safety reasons after suffering two crashes, as a total of eight men’s sleds crashed…

Yet imagine the fury of partaking in this sport, not to mention Luge or Skeleton… As for me, the signature voice of Olympic Bobsledding will always be John Morgan, who is a former US Bobsledder, who’ve I’ve just learned watched his older brother die in a Bobsledding accident in Italy in 1981 on his very first broadcast assignment, as Morgan rushed to his brother’s side only to find he had no pulse…

As Morgan called the on track action, he noted how the 4-man sleds that weigh in at 500lbs were dropping four stories in the first 150 meters of the undulating 16-turn course, which totaled a length of some 16 football fields whilst dropping a total of 50 stories! Not to mention the 71 miles of pipe needing 800 bends to pump the nitrogen underneath the concrete slabs foundation to keep the ice cool… As Day 1 saw a track temperature of 26 deg f, while Morgan called Day 2’s warmer surface “Soft Ice,” with a temperature of 31.5-32 degrees. But most interesting to me was the comment that they use sandpaper on the sleds runners, while reaching record terminal velocities of nearly 96mph!

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