Bobsled officials will shave ice in several tricky curves on the super-fast Olympic track, hoping the changes will make it easier to navigate.
After four-man bobsleds from Croatia and Latvia crashed during supplemental training on Monday, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation postponed the remainder of the practice session. The decision was made after a meeting with representatives from 11 sliding nations near the 13th turn, the track's toughest section, close to the spot where Canada's Lyndon Rush crashed in the two-man event.
The plan is to shave an inch or more of ice in that curve, dubbed “50-50” — as in chance of making it through — and in a few other areas. Coaches say the changes are considered relatively minor.
By shaving a bit of ice, which not uncommon on newer tracks like this one, four-man teams will have more room to maneuver through the challenging chicanes and give drivers more margin for error.
U.S. coach Brian Shimer said while the changes are important, they are more about fair competition than safety concerns.
“This is all about racing, and getting through the race,” Shimer told The Associated Press after the practice session, which many top nations chose to skip to rest up. “It's still going to be the toughest track in the world. No doubt.”
The alterations were a joint decision by the FIBT and coaches, Shimer said.
“Everybody put their two cents in,” he said.
During Monday's training session, coaches were lined up along the railing on the inside of the 13th turn, which was nicknamed “50-50” by USA-1 driver Steve Holcomb in 2009. During the first heat of the two-man event, Holcomb nearly lost control in that section, but managed to keep his sled upright and finished sixth.
His race, though, is the four-man and the U.S. team, plus others, wanted to make sure that event would be as trouble-free as possible.
“Everybody was kind of waiting to see when the four-mans got on the track,” Shimer said. “And not even up to speed, the curve was true to its name today. It was 50-50. I think it'll be fine as long as everybody's aware and knows the issues. I think some of the pilots coming down still maybe don't know the right line.”
Shimer said the trouble starts in curve 11, a stance many bobsledders have echoed in recent days.
The ice there is piled thick, though Canadian women's pilot Helen Upperton says it was even thicker before she and other teammates suggested changes a year ago. The thick ice makes it difficult for bobsleds to get through if they're not on an absolutely perfect line.
A total of 107 bobsleds took off from the top of the track Sunday. Only three crashed, but many drivers and coaches have said in recent days that four-man sleds — which are tougher to steer — could have serious trouble staying upright.
A tiny misstep in four-man, especially in the curve 11-12-13 area at Whistler, means a crash could easily happen.
“Four-man's our bread-and-butter,” Shimer said. “We don't want to just roll the dice and make a small, small mistake and not even finish a race. And everybody's kind of in that same boat. The four-man's are going to be over (90 mph) and it's a lot heavier and a lot harder to get out of trouble with a four-man.”
Shimer said the changes will also help the women's competition, which begins Tuesday. Some women's teams have already made six runs down the 16-curve track and may now find it less challenging.
“This will just make it easier,” said Shimer, a bronze-medal winner in the two-man at Salt Lake in 2002. “It won't have an effect on the women other than probably making it a bit easier for them if they are aware of what the issues are. It will just make it better for everybody.”