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Friday, October 13, 2006


We had a couple crashes last night and this morning. Not my sled, that is why I am riding with Sara, who happens to be the second best woman bobsled driver in the U.S. and has been driving for 6 years. So don't worry about me, I just have collected a couple of strange bruises from riding in the sled: one on my left knuckles from squeezing the handle so hard I jam my hand into the side of the sled, a bunch on the inside of my right knee because I tuck my head down and my helmet gets slammed back and forth, and some on the insides of my arms which I think must be from hitting the top edges of the sled when I load. And my brain gets jostled. Sara claims she's lost a few IQ points after 6 years of sliding, I think I survived my 6 runs okay. Jeez- I've only done 6 runs? Each run though is draining and takes a lot of effort. The most effort is at the end of the run because if the track is slow (which it has been), you have to get out and push the sled to the top of the run-out. This morning was the first time that the track was fast enough that I had to pull the brakes to stop us at the top of the run-out.

yeah, crashes, I'm getting to it.

Since this is an Olympic venue, it's set up with a PA system which makes announcements something like this:
"15 minutes until sliding starts"
"10 minutes until sliding starts"
"Finish is clear"
"Track is now clear for Sara Sprung driving with Laura Valaas on brakes"
"Sled in the track"
"Start time of 6.30"
"Sliding Cliffside"
"Sliding Whiteface"
"Taking the Devil's Highway"
"Sliding Shady2"
"Through Labrynth"
"Taking Bennem's Bend" (some of these I'm definitely spelling wrong)
"Sliding the Chicanes"
"Through the Chicanes, Sliding the Heart"
"Through and down. Finishing with a down time of 59.90" (actual times from today)
"Finish is clear"
"Track is now clear for..."
and so on and so forth until,
"The track is now closed."

What you do NOT want to hear over the PA system is
"81 in the Heart" (or whichever corner)
Because that means they crashed. When you crash a bobsled you stay in the sled and try to keep your body off the ice because you're going so fast that it burns you, even through multiple layers of clothes and a kevlar burn suit. Sara said that a good trick was to use your helmet to keep the rest of your body off the ice. Anyway, I don't want to have to try that although everyone who's crashed so far has been fine, just with a couple of burns.

The track is about 1 mile long and has 20 corners. Each corner is referred to by number and some have specific names that the announcer uses. But most of the drivers seem to refer to all of them by number. The Lake Placid track, rumor has it, is the roughest of the North American tracks. Rough enought that they only take passangers from halfway up, whereas, for example, at Park City passangers/tourists can ride the entire track (for about $200). Here's the process for this morning's sliding session. It might be boring and long, so feel free not to read further.

-leave OTC, 8:30
-arrive at women's sled house below Mt. VanHoevenburg Sports Complex
-tighten down runners, put on scabbards which are long wooden sheaths with handles on the end that cover the runners, tip sleds right side up and load onto big flat-bed trucks. Brakemen load all the gear into the sleds and jump on the back of the truck while drivers shoe covers and walk up the track.
-arrive at start, 9:30, unload sleds, tip them onto their sides, remove scabbards, move them into a line on the ice covered staging area.
-warm-up by stretching, jogging, practice sprints, drills, whatever. Drivers warm up by visualizing the run and doing whatever they need to do to enable them to drive a bobsled at high speeds.
-First 2mens bobsled starts, 10:00, I change into my (Sara's) spikes.
-sleds go down about every 2-3 minutes.
-Put on mouthgaurd/helmet/gloves, 2 sleds before mine.
-help move sled into position when it's our turn, still on its side. Flip upright when "Finish is clear" and hole onto it while Sara puts her shoe covers in and gets ready.
-When we're both ready, Sara puts down her visor & we both get in position. I say, "backset," Sara says "frontset," Then I fall into the sled and spring forward (or so I would like to do) and sara runs at her push bar.
-sprint like crazy. The track starts to go down and I watch the inside of the sled where I'm going to jump.
-Sara loads. I'm not sure really how she loads, I mean, she has to go from a sprint to jumping sideways into a bobsled while avoiding the pushbar. It seems pretty tricky but I've always been too concerned with what I'm doing to really watch.
-I load. Like a long jump into the sled, two feet forward, use arms to lower into seat, tuck arms into sled, reach forward and grab the handles. Hold on. Don't fight the G-forces. Keep your teeth clenched so you don't bite your tongue. Brace yourself.
-At the end we have a long, straight, uphill run-out. If it's slow, we jump out before the sled stops and push it to the top. If it's fast, I watch where we are and pull the brake levers on bottom of the sled between my legs which simply push down teeth into the ice to stop us at the top. Then we get out.
-We tip the sled on its side and slide it out onto the deck, put the scabbards on (which are driven down in the truck for us) and load it into the truck. There's always a couple of athletes not sliding to help move sleds around and make sure stuff gets where it needs to go.
-Drive back up to the top and cycle through the sliding line-up again.
-Throw our bags in a truck to go down to the finish.
-slide again.
-Take the sleds down to the sled house, unload, flip upside down, remove scabbards, undo runners, dry runners, sand runners, leave.
-arrive OTC, noon.


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