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Sliding centre sparks excitement

Upperton, Lauscher in Whistler to check out track and community

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From mud and raw rebar six months ago, the $100 million sliding centre has emerged on the slopes of Blackcomb this summer. And with the emergence of the track’s form and shape, the athletes who hope to dominate foreign competitors on it in 2010 have started to spring up in Whistler.

Two of those athletes, bobsleigh driver Helen Upperton and luge competitor Regan Lauscher, were in Whistler for a couple of days last week. They were here to get a feel for the track and a feel for the town, where they and their teammates expect to spend a lot of time in the two and a half years leading up to the Olympics.

Last summer Upperton walked the mud where the track was to be built. At that time there were only stakes in the ground to mark the corners where she will be searching for the perfect line that will make her fractions of a second faster than other drivers. On Thursday she got her first glimpse of the actual track.

“It was awesome to see the difference from last year. It’s really exciting for us.

“It looks like it’s going to be a unique and really challenging track,” Upperton said.

She called the track “fast and technical”, with big, flat corners that are very upright.

“It will be interesting to see how the sleds handle them,” Upperton said. “Pierre Lueders (1998 Olympic gold medalist and 2006 Olympic silver medalist) said the same thing.

“I think they’re trying to make it difficult and challenging. Difficult tracks produce the best races; it’s more difficult to be perfect.”

The plan, of course, is that the Canadian bobsleigh, luge and skeleton teams will know the Whistler track inside out by 2010, while most of their competitors will have had only the 2009 World Cup event to become familiar with the course.

“It’s probably the winter sport with the biggest home-field advantage,” Upperton said of the sliding events.

Lauscher was also impressed by the track.

“It took my breath away,” said the Calgary resident who had never been to Whistler prior to last week. “The setting, the views…

“It’s a very challenging looking track. It’s hard to say what I think is the most critical combination of things. Different parts remind me of different tracks.

“What I can tell at this point… it looks like it will definitely be one of the more challenging tracks, and that’s good for the home-field advantage.”

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