Whistler’s Olympic sliding track has a growing reputation as the fastest track in the world.
And as athletes swoosh, skim, slide and jolt their way down the 1,450-metre chute of ice the track is also getting its own unique personality — and a few nicknames along the way. So it is no surprise that with some of the most challenging corners in the sport the curves are quickly earning monikers.
But whether they’ll stick or not only time will tell.
For now corner seven is Leuders’ Loop, named after Canada’s own Pierre Leuders, the most decorated slider in Canadian history.
Reached in Lake Placid Leuders wasn’t sure about the having a corner named after him, as that is something that usually happens after a slider has retired.
“We’ll have to see if this sticks or not.” he said. “Sometimes these things are a bit of a fad and they get forgotten.
“Initially it was a little strange when the international teams were there and there was a corner named after an active slider.
“But if it gives the track a little bit more interest and excitement and a little bit of lore, then that is fine by me.”
Corner 11, of the 16-curve track, which has logged speeds of over 150 km/h for bobsled and luge, is currently known as Shiver.
Corner 13 is fondly known as 50/50 — that’s a slider’s chances of making it around that curve in tact. It first gained a reputation during testing last March when Leuders crashed there — his first spill in eight years.
The last corner, 16, has been dubbed Thunderbird. And Corner 3 is Wedge.
The Thunderbird has special significance as the track is built on the traditional shared territory of the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations. The creature is symbolic of power and their culture speaks of the beating of its wings filling people with awe. The power in the sound of those wings is not unlike that made by the sliders as they speed round the last corner.
Last year Corner 1 was dubbed Slingshot and Corner 2 Fallaway. No word yet whether those names have stuck into this season.
Olympic officials did consider using some sort of process to name the corners but decided instead to let the curves create their own identities.
“Everybody expected us to put a process to it, but we refused to because it doesn’t feel natural to do that,” said Craig Letho, director of the $106.3 million track for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games.
It’s traditional for track corners to be named, with the tag often defining the culture of the track.
“We don’t want to go ahead and name every corner,” said Letho.
“Either something will grow from the corner or it won’t.”
Input comes from athletes, designers, builders, operators, volunteers, and officials. Just about everybody has an idea.
Many corners on the world’s 14-sanctioned sliding tracks have no names, or in some cases the names have been given more than 50 years after the construction of the track.
At the Salt Lake venue, home of the 2002 Winter Games, only 10 of 15 curves have names. There is Sunny Corner, Snowy Corner, Albert’s Alley, Olympic curve, and so on.
At the St. Moritz-Celerina track, which was built in 1904, all the corners are named. Some of the most famous being Nash-Dixon, named after 1964 Olympic medal winners; Sunny, because it is the sunniest part of the track; and Tree, since a tree grows in the short wall of this corner.
“Everybody knows Tree, everybody knows Sunny in St. Moritz,” said Letho.
“You can picture that corner in the culture of the sport quickly because of the name.”
One corner, Portago, was named after Alfonso de Portago, who won the bronze medal for Spain at the track in the two-man event in 1957. Portago died later that year during the Mile Miglia race in Italy.