Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sochi track rattling bones of skeleton, bobsled racers

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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 cancelled 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 medallist and newly crowned world champion Shelley Rudman of Britain said "poor ice maintenance" led to two days of cancelled 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."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 C6

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