On the Road With Team USA

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Saturday morning the women’s skeleton team had their world cup race.  Since I had been at the track whenever we had a team there, It was decided that I would take the morning and treat athletes back at the hotel and get to sleep in a bit.  Annie O’Shea and Savannah Graybill were gracious to allow me to work on them the night before and get them prepped for their race.   Sleeping in till 7:30 never felt so glorious.   I did not realize how tired I really was.   All the fresh air, exercise, good food and long physical hours of working never hurt anyone, yet the rest was welcomed.  I took advantage of the laundry services as I was ready to have some clean clothes.   You get used to seeing people the the same clothes. Mostly we are used to seeing the winter clothes but going in and out of the start house and sweating made my base layers quite ripe depending on the day.  Knowing we were leaving early Monday morning, I packed up as much as I could and set out what was necessary for the next few days.  I have come to realize that I am one of the world’s slowest packers and I am not certain why besides I am not efficient.  Meg did say she was impressed with what I could fit into two bags!

Work that morning was checking in on the women’s bobsled team from the day before, catching up with a few of the 4 man bobsled members to get them prepped for Sunday.  Most of the 2 man competitors were getting ready for the track. I knew sled prep happened the night before, but I didn’t fully understand the precision of working on the sleds.  Most times, working conditions consist of cold garages for hours till the runners were perfect for the track conditions.   Many of the drivers own their own set of runners and some are owned by the team.   Not cheap pieces of equipment.   In talking with the coaches who were all athletes themselves and mostly drivers,  they had to purchase or rent their own sleds too back in the day.  The sleds now a days are owned by the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.   In reading  Steve Holcomb’s book “But now I see, My Journey from Blindness to Olympic Gold” I learned that when Brett Bodine was watching the 1992  Albertville France Olympics  (The same track that I am working at currently)  from his trailer at the  Datonya 500, he could not believe that Team USA was racing on second hand German engineered sleds. He came to Lake Placid and rode down the bobsled track and then committed to making  a sled with American engineering and parts. A lot of money went into making the “Night Train” sled that won the gold in the 4 man in 2010 in Vancouver.  Bo-Dyn still only makes the 4 person sled for the US.  BMW now makes the two person sleds and they are a major sponsor of Team USA.  So much goes into the sleds.   Richard Laubenstein (See picture above for one of my favorite Richard’s!) is the perfect person to work on these sleds.  He is a quiet and gentle man who is brilliant when it comes to the mechanics of these sleds.  He came from Penske Formula 1 racing for 22 years.   Over the 22 years he served as mechanic and fabricator for International Race of Champions then to fabricator and race day pit crew for Team Penske Indy and then onto team manager and crew chief at the Team Penske Racing Experience. He is creative with the materials that are available, ingenious with his designs for efficiency with working in and around the sleds and the environment in which they are stored, transported and maneuvered.  He is resourceful and even had bullion cubes when I needed them for a sick athlete or two.   I truly enjoyed talking with Richard at dinner and at the track when time allowed it.  For a man who is behind the scenes and prefers it, he even let me get a picture with him. That made me happy! I look forward to seeing him again.
Rick and Meg came back early from the track.   That is never a good sign. That meant that Women’s skeleton race was canceled.   With the men getting in one run and the race canceled, the canceled trainings at the track and now this.  Tuffy was not a happy camper as FIBT/IBSF strung the skeleton teams along when they could have saved them from even going to the track.   I felt bad for the girls as well.  With the race being the European championships as well, the question is will it be made up and when.
Now it was time to focus on the men’s 2 man.   Off to the track we go.   I have to say that the bathroom situation was not getting any better as the week went on.  Hand sanitizer…check, kleenex…check… The smell in the start house was already ripe from everyone (I was not contributing to the smell with the silent but deadlies,I PROMISE! I swore off of magnesium the rest of the trip See http://mayfamilychiro.biz/blog/b_47996_blog_8_skeleton_props_and_digestively_speaking_dr_karen_may.html for the inside and funny reference), now we threw in more sweat and testosterone and it was a picnic of odoriferous aroma’s.
Since this is a building year for the men’s team, this is just the 5th race that some have ever participated in. For the veteran’s like Steve Holcomb and Nick Cunningham, the race day never gets old. Experience helps, but your always have to show up with your best.  I was actually able to video tape Nick doing ” the dance” that pilots do. He was fun to watch like Jazmine as he was very fluid and dance like.  I was surprised he was not on the poll for best dancer.  Nick, I would have voted twice, once for you and once for Jaz. You have some rhythm!  Today race teams for the men were Steve Holcomb and Carlo Valdez, Nick Cunningham and Casey Wickline and Codie Bascue and Surf Victorian.   These guys are very laid back and pretty low maintenance as well on race day.   What is interesting is Watching other countries, there was a a lot of leg slapping to warm the muscles up ( I guess?) slapping each others backs and vocal grunts of encouragement. That was in contrast to others being in the zone.   The guys are much more vocal in their pre game ritual than the women’s team except for the German team, they are all loud, coaches and all.

 

Nick Cunningham ” The Dance”

The crowd was just as large for the men’s races as the women’s.  This time since Rick and I cared for all the athletes and they did not need much care just before the second run, Rick and I decided to head to the bottom of the track and catch finish of the race down there.   We ended up meeting the LaPlagne Gopher and had to get a picture. I have no idea why a gopher, but great photo op.  Fun to see the end of the race and how the brakemen really have to pull up to get the sled to stop in addition to an incline helping them out a bit too. They have specialized trucks to load the sleds onto for transportation back to the top.

Start of Steve Holcomb’s and Carlo Valdes’ race

This race did not the achieve the results that the Steve and Nick are used to in previous years, but they keep their heads high and mentally get ready for Sunday.
Rick and I had a few more adjustments to do at the bottom of the track. This was new for some of the athletes to get adjusted post second race.  Nice to work in any environment and get some fresh air.
Back we go to the hotel.  4 races complete (almost save women’s skeleton) one to go.   Skeleton will take off on Sunday for Austria. 4 person bobsled means an additional 6 athletes to care for tomorrow.  Another new experience to look forward to. This time Rick, Meg and I will be at the track.  Looking forward to working with these spectacular people track side!