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Whistler Sliding Centre already getting a name for itself

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The Whistler Sliding Centre is already creating its own myths.

In the last several days an athlete from every one of the three sliding sports, bobsled, luge and skeleton, has crashed on Corner 13. And every crash has happened at the same time in the late afternoon.

“We’re calling that corner 5:45,” said Canadian team luger Sam Edney with a rueful laugh during the first public viewing at the new $104.9 million sliding venue for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Corner #1 has been nicknamed Slingshot as it ricochets the sliders off down the track toward a 20 per cent decline on Corner #2 — a steeper drop off than any corner on any of the other 14 tracks in the world today.

For that reason Canadian sliders have nicknamed Corner #2 Fall Away. Athletes go from just a few kilometres an hour to 120 km/h. While it’s not official yet most sliders are saying the track will be the fastest in the world. Sliders could reach speeds of 155 km/h in perfect conditions.

“I think the names will come with more time,” said Edney.

“Every run down is an adrenalin run. Every time I get to the bottom I feel that adrenalin. There are some tracks where, after however many runs, you lose that adrenalin. But here it is so fast, and so quick, and so technical you can’t help but feel super excited at the bottom.”

The Whistler Sliding Centre is a 1450-metre track with a 175-metre vertical drop, and 16 corners. The track is made of six-inch concrete with a required precision of within 3mm. At Games time close to 12,000 people will be able to watch the sports.

It is unique in that spectators, who will pay from $30 to $85 a ticket, are right up close to the track watching from the sidelines as the athletes whiz past.

Post-Games, the track, which was started June 1, 2005, will become both an attraction for Whistler visitors and a facility for sport development and world-calibre events. It will be supported after the Olympics by the Whistler Legacies Society endowment fund, established by the federal and provincial governments in the bid phase of the Games. The fund has grown from $110 million to at least $133.6 million — the last figure available from May 2007.

The Legacy fund will be split between the Richmond Skating Oval, Whistler Olympic Park and the sliding centre, with the two Whistler venues sharing 40 per cent.

That long-term legacy was part of the planning right from the beginning.

“The design and the function and the operation of the facility right from day one had visitors in mind,” said Craig Letho, director of the track for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Games.

“We had to start with the world’s best in order to get it… ready… But… by the time the Games are over we will have a large program so that we can bring the community in and bring the public in so they can take a ride on this track just like they take a ride on the ski runs.”

Canada’s other sliding track, near Calgary, also runs public programs.

“It’s absolutely a thrill,” said Chris Dornan, director of communications for Calgary Olympic Development Association, who has done some sliding himself.

“Anything that we can do to give the public, whether it is international tourists or young kids, an opportunity to get on a track is critical for the development of the sport. You never know where your next Olympic champion is going to come from.”

Over 10,000 people have already experienced the thrills of the bobsled track at La Plagne, France built for the 1992 Olympics.

As for officially naming the Whistler Sliding Centre track’s corners said Letho: “We are almost having too much fun with that.

“We hope to get a good percentage of them named out by the end of the Games.”

Asked if he could share the names so far he said: “I can’t. It is probably the biggest secret that we have at the track.”

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