APNewsBreak: Bobsled officials will slightly modify curves of speedy Olympic track

By Tom Withers, AP
Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympic track getting minor makeover

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Bobsled officials changed the ice shape in the trickiest spots on the super-fast Olympic track Monday, hoping the slight changes will make it easier to navigate.

The biggest change was in Curve 11, where a small amount of ice was scraped away from the entry to the crucial turn. Still, the changes are so minor that they were imperceptible to Canadian driver Helen Upperton during Monday night’s training session.

“It feels the same as it has all week,” Upperton said.

After four-man bobsleds from Croatia and Latvia crashed during supplemental training on Monday morning, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation postponed the remainder of the practice session until later that evening. The decision was made after a meeting with representatives from 11 sliding nations near the 13th turn, part of the track’s toughest section, close to the spot where Canada’s Lyndon Rush crashed in the two-man event.

Curve 11 is critical, because that’s where drivers pick up the right line to navigate Curve 13, dubbed “50-50″ — as in chance of making it through.

The changes can make the ice “faster … and safer, maybe not so much crashes,” German pilot and Olympic gold hopeful Sandra Kiriasis said.

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 thick, though 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.

“It’s a little bit easier,” German women’s pilot Cathleen Martini said. “It’s a little bit easier to get the 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 also will help the women’s competition, which begins Tuesday, by possibly making it less challenging.

The U.S. women’s bobsled team did not train Monday night, opting to take a last night off to rest.

“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.”

AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story.

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