US, other sliders upset with Sochi ice conditions

Bobsled and skeleton athletes from the U.S and other nations are

upset over ice conditions at the track that will be used for Sochi

Olympics, saying it’s impairing their ability to get ready for this

weekend’s World Cup finale and prepare for the 2014 Games.

The issue is not about speed, safety or design – everyone’s

satisfied with those elements – but rather, how the ice is being

maintained. In simplest terms, many sliders are alleging that when

they have access to the track, the ice is not being tended to

properly and that has led to some bumpy rides down the chute.

Some U.S. sliders have been in Russia for more than a week, with

only 10 trips down the track to show for that time. Sliders have

said that international ice time has been canceled twice this week

already, but that the Russian teams have been permitted to train as

scheduled, which many are calling a display of pre-Olympics

gamesmanship.

”It’s so bumpy out there,” U.S. skeleton athlete Noelle

Pikus-Pace said in a telephone interview from Rzhanaya Polyana,

Russia, where the track was built about an hour northeast of Sochi,

the Olympic hub. ”There’s actual concrete in the outrun. It just

isn’t ready for us to slide. The track is a mess.”

It’s not just the Americans who are upset. Olympic skeleton

silver medalist and newly crowned world champion Shelley Rudman of

Britain said ”poor ice maintenance” led to two days of canceled

workouts, and Canadian slider Eric Neilson turned to Twitter to

express his frustration.

”This trip here has turned into a joke really,” Neilson wrote.

”Where are the hidden cameras?”

Bobsled and skeleton’s governing body, the FIBT, has no plans to

cancel this weekend’s World Cup event, though many sliders have

asked in recent days if it’s even a smart move to consider

competing. Some have complained of blurred vision during runs from

bouncing around on choppy ice, and others have experienced

headaches after going down the track.

”It’s pretty frustrating coming to the track every day with a

track crew that does not know what they’re doing,” U.S. skeleton

athlete John Daly said. ”No work is being done on the track.

There’s delays in every session.”

Pierre Lueders, the longtime Canadian bobsled driver who now

coaches the Russian team, did not return an email seeking

comment.

The home team gets a home-ice advantage in every Olympics. At

the track in Whistler, British Columbia for the 2010 Olympics,

Canadian sliders – as was their right – got dozens more practice

runs down the world’s most treacherous course than any

international competitors did. And when the U.S. has hosted

bobsled, skeleton and luge world championship races in recent

years, Americans have enjoyed quite a medal haul as well.

The better a slider knows a course, the faster they get down the

course. It’s simple.

What’s further irking the international sliders in this case was

the scene that played out earlier during this training week, when

foreign teams were not allowed to train because of the poor ice

conditions – but that those problems were fixed in time for the

Russians to get their daily practice sessions in that night, and

allegedly without any international eyes allowed to watch those

proceedings.

”The longer it goes, the more you wonder what’s going on,”

USBSF CEO Darrin Steele said. ”At this stage in the game, it’s

hard to understand why they wouldn’t have a good handle on the

track maintenance and why the conditions aren’t good. This is

official training for this World Cup and we typically don’t see

these types of problems.”

Steele said his coaches are ”very frustrated with where things

are.” Another frustration source for non-Russian teams is that

next season’s pre-Olympic training week at the Sanki Sliding Center

is scheduled to end about a week before the start of the World Cup

season in North America, which could lead to some logistical

issues.

The Russians will not be part of that training week. They’re

planning to train on tracks in North America that week, though

Steele said U.S. and Canadian officials are considering not opening

up their facilities to the Russians because of the problems they’re

experiencing now.

U.S. skeleton coach Tuffy Latour said the venue itself is

gorgeous, and is among those raving about its unique design. But

the ice condition, he said, takes away from everything.

”There isn’t a track crew to be seen and the organizers haven’t

asked for outside help,” Latour said. ”We have a world of

knowledge at the other international tracks waiting to be called

on. It’s frustrating to be here with great weather, a fantastic

looking facility and athletes that are eager to slide, yet we sit

in our hotel rooms and wait.”