There is no doubt that Whistler’s new Olympic sliding track feeds the need for speed.
“It is going to be the fastest track in the world, without a doubt, come (2010) Games time,” said Jeff Christie a member of Canada’s men’s luge team.
He hit a top speed of 144 kilometres per hour, the top speed recorded, this week as the track went thought an evaluation-approval process with the International Sport Federations in charge of bobsled, luge and skeleton, the FIBT and the FIL.
The top speed reached on the Torino Olympic track was 138 km/h and most of the other 14 tracks around the world have an average speed of about 125 km/h.
“I think it is a great track,” said 25-year-old Christie who competed at the 2006 Olympics in Torino.
“It is very fast and it is challenging. There are some corners that you have to make sure you steer right on, but I don’t think that is anything insurmountable and with a bunch of runs we can figure out how we need to slide down it.”
Completing the homologation process is a major milestone said Craig Letho, director of the track for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games. You can’t hold sanctioned competitions on a track without it.
“Having speeds upwards of 144 km/h — that is what we expected and I think that is what the world wanted, a very technical track and a very challenging track,” said Letho.
“I think that is what the (international federations) were expecting as well, so the feedback is that they love the area, they love the setting, and they love that it is a demanding track.”
Over the duration of the homologation more than 200 runs were taken by athletes from seven countries representing the three sliding disciplines. They worked from the bottom to the top and a detailed evaluation was done to ensure that the 1,450-metre track was safe for athletes’ ability levels. The track has 16 corners and a steep pitch with the most vertical drop of any track in the world.
“This is a great track that will challenge all the skills of the modern sliding athletes,” said Bob Storey, President of the FIBT. “It is fast, it is technical, demanding and interesting.
“The Whistler Sliding Centre is an example of the new tracks of the future as well as a great sporting legacy.”
Christie said getting to test out the track, as part of the homologation process was exciting.
“We had a lot of runs that we did the week before homologation so it was a feeling of excitement, of fun,” he said.
“There was a lot of talk about trying this and trying that. It was more about excitement.
“It is a great track and it is nice to have a new location, it’s Canada’s own. It is our track and I think that is a pretty neat thing about it too.”
Most of the other tracks in the world are known commodities now and athletes know what line will get them the fastest speed as they head down it.
For the next two years Canada’s sliders will get to fine-tune those lines, giving them a huge advantage said Christie. He expects to slide on the track about 300 times before 2010.
“Before the Olympics in Torino I had only 45 runs,” said Christie.
“It is going to make a massive difference (being able to practice on the track).”
Canada’s sliders will spend close to three weeks in town practising on the track and learning its subtleties.
Work is still ongoing on the facility said Letho. Though the ice on the track will be allowed to melt off when Canada’s teams leave shortly, work will continue on landscaping and the roads and also tweaking any of the items that have come up for discussions with all the activity on the track.
Safety will be looked at with crash barriers, exit walls and other elements examined to make sure they are the best they can be.
It’s hoped the track will be open to the public sometime this summer so they can come and see it, though it’s unlikely any programs for track use will be put in place before the 2010 Games are over.