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Next generation of pilots attends bobsleigh school

Eight beginner athletes strive for greatness

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It probably wouldn't be surprising to hear of a scout or two hanging around a university soccer game, taking notes on a couple of interesting players.

But in Kori Hol's case, she wasn't being scouted for her ability on the field.

The 24-year-old, who was a defender for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women's soccer team this fall, was recruited for something quite different — bobsleigh.

After being contacted by 2006 Olympian Florian Linder, Hol accepted the chance to give the sport a try, hopping into a sled last week during bobsleigh pilot school at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

As a well-rounded athlete, the chance to represent her country on the world's biggest stage is certainly part of the appeal for the Richmond resident.

"I'd like to do it competitively. That's why I started it, to go the competitive route," she said.

The first day of school was pretty much just like the first day of Grade 1, Hol explained, as she'd been in a sled all of two times before the first day of class.

"The week before the bob school, I went down in the bobsleigh for the first time with Julie Johnson as a brakeman from Corner 11," she recalled. "I did a tour bob that day, too, just to get another feeling of it, and then I joined the bob school."

Whistler Sport Legacies' bobsleigh head coach and sport manager Helen Upperton noted the WSC's pilot schools were five-day programs many years ago, and were reduced to two when there weren't enough people who would put aside the better part of a week. However, the programs have now have been re-expanded back to five days with more training.

"We couldn't really teach people how to drive sleds in two days," Upperton said. "(This time), more than half the sliders made it up to Start 3, which is three-quarters of the way up the track. That's a really amazing progression."

In addition to more track time, Upperton added that athletes were given other learning opportunities in order to maximize their takeaway from the week.

"We added in a classroom section as well. We teach them about the gravitational forces of the sport and pressure, how that impacts the sled and the steering. We taught them a little bit more about equipment and did some video review as well," she said.

Eight athletes ranging in age from 17 to 50 took part, though the program targets those who are under the age of 25 with previous sport experience with a half-price subsidy. Upperton said most athletes were from Whistler or Vancouver, though one came from Victoria.

"In bobsleigh, it's about a four-year window to develop as a pilot, properly and for consistency," she said.

Upperton explained athletes' learning curves, especially at early stages like this, can be quite varied. However, they don't necessarily provide insight as to where they might end up.

"We're looking at building not only a pathway to the national program and maybe one day representing your country, but also to recreational participation in the sport," she said. "We're hoping all of them come back and do a bit of sliding."

Hol noted one major area of improvement for her was in her track analysis, which she brought together over the course of the week with the daily track walk.

"The track walks were definitely one of the most important things we did. Walking down each turn slowly, and walking through each different stage of the turn (was helpful)... it's a very reaction-based sport, and you can't execute the second part of the turn until you're done with the first part," she said. "Having Helen talk it through with you before going down really puts it into perspective and lets you memorize it."

Growing up, Hol played basketball and volleyball in addition to soccer. While she'll have sprinting ability from all of them, volleyball also has a bit more to offer, like her reaction time.

"All my sports, all of it will transfer into bobsleigh somehow," said Hol, who has connected with Johnson and plans to continue training this week.

Abbotsford's Zach Choboter, 20, was also a targeted athlete as a former track and field competitor at Simon Fraser University and as a rugby player with his hometown club.

He acknowledged he had some butterflies early on in his training, but with encouragement from the coaching staff, he gained the confidence he could steer his own destiny.

"They kept me calm and showed me what to focus on," he said. "By the end, with all of the techniques they showed us, I was really calm. When you're in the track, you have to stay calm and you can't overreact. That's when crashes happen."

Another five-day course will begin March 20. For more details, visit slidebc.ca.

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