How have I already been here five days? I had to learn the ropes of the flow of the week with regards to training. Now it is time to learn about actual race days. Today is a fun day as it is Men’s skeleton in the morning and then women’s bob in the afternoon. Another long day at the track but different so it is exciting. Two of our skeleton men’s team (Matt Antoine and Kyle Tress) are slated to do well and both like the La Plagne track. We finally got a good part of this snow that they were talking about. Rick had the morning off and Meg stayed back to work on the men’s bob team.
That day I decided to ride down with the Skeleton coaches, Tuffy and Zach. Boy
was I glad I did. The amount of snow was ridiculous! Now, I am used to snow and driving in snow yet this was snow on hair pin turns that had wooden guard rails and REALLY steep drop offs( insert the wylie e coyote music in here now). I was thankful for the guys. When I got to the passenger side of the car
the snow was up to my thighs. It snowed a good 2.5 feet last night with more on the way. This is not ideal for the track but boy was it pretty(especially since I was not driving!). Now lets talk about snow removal by the municipalities of La Plagne. I give them the biggest props! There is really nowhere to plow snow, It has to be maneuvered in whatever space is available. They didn’t even have all the snow that they usually do by end of January and the banks were already pretty high. This machine has plows that fold in and out on the sides, has a front one that moves in multiple directions and has a Zamboni looking back end that can operate as well in the reverse direction. It had it all and those drivers were able to move the large machine like it was a Indy car around all the turns. I give them props! I think I was a bit jealous coming home to the plowing abilities or lack there of in my area. Side note I was trying to look up a picture of this amazing snow plow and googled ” Pictures of street Snow Plows in La Plagne France”and about halfway scrolling down there is a picture or Carlo Valdez. When did you become a street snow plow in La Plagne? That made me laugh. Carlo you are every where!
The mood and attitude in the start house is much more intense competition day. Racers from all over the world who would normally talk on training days are now fierce competitors and not many words are exchanged. I get my table set up and take care of my athletes when Allen Blackwell has requested to be be adjusted. I am in go mode too. I am quite like the rest of the staff in the start house. It is hard not to smile when Allen is in the room. What he may lack in stature he makes up for in personality! Allen brings in this tube of Austrian topical analgesic cream. He come up to me with his race shirt suit down to his waist and no top on, Walks up to me and hands me this tube of cream, looks me in the eye says” Make it Hot Karen, Make. It. Hot!” He then proceeds to bend over with his hands on the end of the table with his feet spread wide in dramatic Allen fashion. I just look at him for a minute and shake my head, grab my gloves and then start to apply the cream to his back. I think nothing of it but grin at Allen and his persona. Then I heard Tuffy just snickering and laughing. I look up to Tuffy taking pictures of me and Allen. I then realize I have positioned myself DIRECTLY behind him…This does NOT look good!! Move to the side, move to the side! I am so embarrassed , I cannot believe Tuf is taking pictures! Well, this will stick…. As you will see in the pictures Tuffy took that At first I have no idea, then I figure it out and then from there. I was mortified. But in Allen fashion, he had smart ass comments to play up the situation which made everyone laugh even more. Him making light of it and me totally embarrassed made quite the combo. I can tell you that Tuffy made sure EVERY coach knew about it and Make it Hot became a theme for a good laugh the rest of the trip.
Me being laughing with Allen, COMPLETELY unaware that Tuffy is taking pictures
Me realizing that Tuffy is taking pictures and I am thinking ” this is not good.. Me standing right behind Allen, looks kind of compromising, Really Tuf? pictures?”
Wise crack my Tuffy I am certain by the look on my face
At least I can laugh about it and cheese it up!
This race stop was also the European Championships. Whomever the top European finishers were could not just claim this race victory for the world cup but also for European championship as well. The men’s race was about to get under way. What you don’t see in the televised races is the officials that are checking the runners for any substances that would give an edge, the temperature of the runners so it is uniform and to code to match the track conditions and not damage the track. Then one of the coaches ( Usually Tuffy as Zach is down track videoing the runs) lifts up the sled which can be 43 kg (94.8 lb) maximum for guys and 35 kg (77.2 lb) for girls onto the track. The athletes wait in their jacket and spike covers to stay a bit warmer until the track is clear. They discard the coverings to the side, line up and then pick a side of the sled to hold onto the push. The angle as to which they push off the start block is practiced over and over and over again so that it hopefully comes off flawless. There is an electronic eye that measures the time of the push from very particular points. That time makes or breaks you as you can make up some time in the track, but it is hard. The G forces that is applied to the body in certain curves can be 5 to 6 G. I have been told that you cannot breathe at all during those times. As they exit the track after they pass the finish line most pull up on the sled and use their feet to slow them down.
This race week has been riddled with controversy over the track. Today is no different. After the entire field of men’s racers take their first run, controversy followed and by the powers that be in the FIBT, the track is deemed not sufficient for the racers and that the final places are those after the first run. So much disappointment from all except the top few racers and the coaches were even less happy. What I have learned is that this is like everything else very political at times. I just felt bad for Matt, Kyle and Allen. Disappointing to say the least.
Matt Antoine and Tuffy at the start in Igls Austria
Matt Antoine ready to race with Tuffy holding sled
Kyle Tress at the start in Igls Austria with Tuffy
I was told that Bobsled would race regardless of the conditions as they have a metal sled the surrounds them and not just underneath them. So now I wait for my first race of Women’s bobsled!