The world's best skeleton athletes and bobsleigh teams have been training in Whistler the last two weeks in preparation for World Cup test events starting today (Thursday, Feb. 5) with the skeleton events.
The track is earning its reputation as one of the fastest and most technically challenging in the world with several crashes in training sessions, including one that banged up Pierre Lueders, Canada's top bobsleigh driver.
Lueders is expected to introduce a new, top secret sled for the Whistler track. With data analysis and design work by Bombardier, the sled has been dubbed the Whistler Bomber.
The World Cup is open to the public for a nominal entry fee of $5. Tickets are available at the Whistler Blackcomb ticket booth outside the Excalibur Gondola.
There is no parking at the site, and spectators have to take the Excalibur to mid-station, then walk to the venue.
The men's and women's skeleton events will take place on Thursday, Feb. 5, with the women racing at 3 p.m. and the men racing under the lights at 7 p.m. The women's bobsleigh is at 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 6, followed by the men's two-man bobsleigh at 5 p.m. The four-man bobsleigh is at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Organized bobsleigh races go back more than 150 years, as the evolution of the sport is credited to British tourists tobogganing down winding roads in the alps after snow storms. The four-man bobsleigh was first included in the 1924 Winter Games, followed by two-man bobsleigh in 1932. Women's bobsleigh, which uses two-person sleighs, did not gain Olympic acceptance until 2002.
Bobsleighs are built to be aerodynamic and strong, and there is a limit to how heavy they can be. If you've never seen Cool Runnings, the story of the Jamaican Bobsleigh team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, adding weight can win races.
In bobsleigh, the athletes push the sled for approximately 50 metres, which is where races are often won. Then athletes coordinate jumping into the sleigh so everyone is seated properly, and aerodynamically, behind the driver. Athletes can default if they run too far before jumping into the sleigh, and teams that get in too soon are usually too slow to be competitive.
Each team gets two runs on the course, and the winner is the team with the lowest combined time. Races are measured in hundredths of seconds.
Athletes to Watch: On the women's side, Helen Upperton and partner Jenny Cichetti are on the Canada 1 sled, while Kaillie Humphries and Shelley-Ann Brown are on Canada 2, and Lisa Szabon and Amanda Moreley are on Canada 3. On the four-man bobsleigh, the Canada 1 team is Pierre Lueders, Ken Kotyk, David Bissett and Justin Kripps, while the Canada 2 team includes Lyndon Rush, Robert Gray, Chris Le Bihan, and Adam Rosenke.
In two-man, Lyndon Rush and Lascelles Brown make up the Canada 1 team, and Pierre Lueders and David Bissett the Canada 2 team.
Skeleton is an individual sport, and like bobsleigh it can be won or lost in the start. According to the Vancouver Organizing Committee, a tenth of a second advantage at the start can translate into a three-tenths of a second lead at the bottom.
The athletes start in a sprint, while hunched over and holding the handles on the sled. After 50 metres they hop head-first onto the sled. They steer by shifting their bodies, just inches from the surface of the ice.
Athletes race in up to four heats, and the winner is the racer with the lowest combined time to the nearest hundredth of a second.
The sleds are what gives the sport its name, once resembling a human skeleton. Today's designs look like spinal boards, but are just over a metre in length. Most Olympic athletes will have custom-fitted sleds or different sleds for different types of courses.
The sleds are weighed before and after each race, and are kept in a supervised area to ensure that athletes don't attempt to cheat by heating the runners.
Athletes to Watch: The men's World Cup skeleton team includes Paul Boehm, Jeff Pain and Jon Montgomery, while the women's team includes Mellisa Hollingsworth, Michelle Kelly and Sarah Reid.
The Whistler Sliding Centre
· The Whistler Sliding Centre track was built at a cost of $101 million, almost double the $55 million price tag during the bid.
· The course is 1.45 kilometres in length with an elevation change of 150 metres.
· Sliders can expect to experience roughly 5.02 Gs of G-force pressure (measure of gravity) in the corners, which is more than astronauts experience on a space shuttle launch.