Olympic sliding hopefuls hit the ice

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For the U.S. luge, bobsled and skeleton teams, the Olympic season has officially arrived.

The teams' home track in Lake Placid, N.Y., opened Tuesday morning, and USA Luge's Aidan Kelly had the distinction of being the first slider to hit the ice in a season that will culminate this February in Russia at the Sochi Olympics.

''I was really excited,'' said Kelly, the reigning U.S. junior champion who figures to have a shot at making this year's Olympic team. ''Last year I was the second one to go down. Nobody remembers the guy who goes second.''

When the luge team showed up for their 8 a.m. session, it was downright frosty in the Adirondacks, with athletes bundled under sweats and jackets to ward off the chilly air. By mid-morning, the temperature was around 60 degrees, making it seem considerably less than wintry. The ice that coats the inside portion of the chute built on Mt. Van Hoevenberg is refrigerated, and much of the track is shaded to further protect it from the sun and elements.

''The ice was a little choppy, bumpy. But that's kind of how every year starts out,'' Kelly said.

As it turned out, the weather eventually got too warm later in the day to support any sort of sliding, with mid-afternoon temperatures topping out around 71 degrees at the track.

The U.S. bobsled team was scheduled to get their first runs of the season in Tuesday night. That session was canceled and rescheduled for Wednesday morning because of the warm conditions, the Olympic Regional Development Authority announced.

Some U.S. luge athletes have already gotten on-ice work in on a track in Norway, with many members of the team and its coaching staff traveling to Lillehammer last month. Still, the opening of the Lake Placid track has long been considered the start of the U.S. sliding season, and it coincided with the day that Canadian lugers opened their on-ice year in Calgary, Alberta.

''If I can stress one thing to them it's to maintain focus throughout the season,'' U.S. luge coach Mark Grimmette said. ''If they can do that, they'll get faster.''

U.S. women's luge athlete Summer Britcher said she was encouraged with the day-one results.

''I've been looking forward to this for a long time,'' Britcher said. ''It's great to be back on the ice. It went really well. Hopefully it's an omen for the rest of the season.''

Most American sliders will spend the better part of October training and competing in Lake Placid and the other U.S. track, the one built in Park City, Utah and used in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

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