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Canadian sliders jockey for position

Practice at Whistler Sliding Centre likely to improve chances of medals in 2010



Canada's best sliders are training and competing against each other at the Whistler Sliding Centre this week.

While teams for the 2010 Games are still being finalized, sliding athletes are jockeying for positions on the World Cup, the Europa Cup and the America's Cup circuits.

Athletes must get a certain number of points to qualify for the Olympic Games and for the various levels of competition.

One of Canada's top pilots, Lyndon Rush, ranked 14th in the two-man sled and 19th in the four-man sled by the international bobsleigh organization, the FIBT, is using the time to get as familiar with the Whistler track as possible.

"When you are getting ready for this track you are always really focused because it can nip you," said the Saskatchewan father of two girls, the first aged three years old and the second four months. "You can crash and make big mistakes on it. The more technical the track is I think the more advantage it is for the home team, and that is a nice advantage for us."

The aptly named Rush, 29, is no stranger to racing and it's that element, along with the science of winning in a bobsled, that has kept him hooked on the sport.

"I really like racing," he said on a break from the track.

"I used to race motorcycles and snowmobiles when I was younger. We would even race lawnmower tractors. It didn't matter what it was we just wanted to race."

Initially he was asked to be the brakeman on a sled - the athlete who pushes off and then eventually pulls the brake.

But a pulled hamstring during try-out camp sent him over to the driver's camp and he has never looked back.

"The more you steer the more you slow the sled down," said Rush.

"You are creating friction when you steer so ideally you do as little as possible to achieve the good line, and there is a tradeoff between achieving the good line and slowing the sled down.

"That is the balance of the science of trying to get down fast - do you do a little bit more here so you can do less there."

Rush is excited about the opportunity to compete at home in 2010, but not for the pageantry associated with the event. For Rush it is all about the speed and the competition.

"I think it will be the biggest race I've done and that's what I'm looking forward to."

It is likely he will pilot the Canada 2 sled with athletes Lascelles Brown, Dan Humphries and Chris LeBihan.

Canada 1 is likely to have Pierre Lueders at the helm. He is FIBT ranked sixth for two-man and 13th for four-man.

Kaillie Humphries, also formerly a brakeman, is now working to perfect her piloting with an eye on qualifying for the 2010 Games.

Ranked eighth by the FIBT in the two-athlete sled, the only bobsleigh female sliders compete in, Humphries believes her background as an alpine racer is helping her driving skills.

"You are either going to be fast and good, you can see the line, and you have fast reactions, or you are not going to do it and you are going to crash all over the place," said Humphries of piloting in a sport not unlike Formula 1 racing

"For me with my ski racing background, it has definitely helped to see the line of the track."

Humphries has dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal since she was nine years old and witnessed family friend and Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury win gold at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics.

"...When I saw him win gold and saw the look on his face I wanted that same feeling," she said.

Being an alternate at the Torino 2006 Games has only made Humphries more determined than ever to get a spot in a sled for the 2010 Games. Women have only been sliding in the Olympics since the Salt Lake Games in 2002.

"It is a lot of athletes' dreams to be able to compete at a home Games and if I get that opportunity it would be a once in a lifetime chance," she said.

"I am going to use every advantage possible to make sure that I do my very best and we bring home some hardware."

Driving a sled is not like going on a roller coaster, said Humphries.

"I hate roller coasters, which surprises a lot of people," she said.

"It is really, really fast and completely different to skiing or anything that I grew up doing."

She is hopeful that having a second track in Canada will not only raise the profile of the sport but also result in more wins.

Bobsleigh was invented by Englishmen in the late 1860s. The various types of sleds came several years before the first tracks were built in St. Moritz , where the original bobsleds were adapted upsized luge / skeleton sleds designed by the adventurously wealthy to carry passengers. All three types were adapted from boys' delivery sleds and toboggans .

Men's four-man bobsleigh appeared in the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and men's two-man bobsleigh event was added in 1932. Bobsleigh was not included in the 1960 Winter Olympics , but has been in every Winter Olympics since.

Teams from all over the world, along with Canada, will be back in Whistler at the beginning of November to train.