The competitive season has begun! After finding their feet in Lake Placid, the team arrived in whistler where the bobsleigh proper could begin.
Though it seems that travel this season will not go without incident. A delay to the first flight meant that our bags were not loaded onto the second plane. So, we were left without bags for almost two days. That included all sliding kit, and everyone’s clothes. The silver lining however was an airline paid shopping spree in the Nike outlet 5 minutes before it closed. No bags, coupled with the sled not arriving until 2hrs before the first training made for a tense start, but we got on the ice.
Whistler North American Cup
The Whistler track, home of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics is by far the fastest track in the world. Considered one of the top three hardest tracks in the world to drive (alongside Lake Placid, and Altenberg). But the team were not phased. Everyone was happy to have our sled back, and all of our tools. Its hard to express the feeling of safety and comfort that having a world class sled and our garage full of equipment provides. Add to that a new brakeman, and we were ready for business.
Lewis Prentice is a serving member of the RAF, and is joining the team in an administrative and assistant role. However, in “paid sliding” (runs that are not affiliated to the international federation) he was able to jump in the back of the sled. Often seen as an inglorious job, the first runs behind a pilot at a track he’s never driven, Lewis was more than keen. Axel and Lewis slid together in a military training week back in early 2020 so the pairing wasn’t entirely new.
There were then two weeks of official training available for the team to get ready for their races. Though the first day we started from “Start 2”, slightly lower in the track, by the second day we were sending it off the top. What a feeling it was to fly through the “Gold Rush Trail” section of the track at over 90mph (145.38kph was our best). We gradually improved throughout the two weeks, and went into the race with high spirits. Though unfortunately we needed to send Adam home, Tom was able to step up and complete all of the training runs and every run of the three back-to-back races!
The entire North American Cup has been front loaded to finish before Christmas. This gives us the opportunity to race in Europe if we need more qualification points, but it also means fewer border crossings for the circuit. However, the down side of that is that the races are pushed together. In this case, 3 races in 3 days. That’s something no one on the circuit has done before, let alone this newly formed team.
However, good start times, top-notch equipment, and a competitive drive meant that the Trini sled, representing T&T for the first time in 20 years, came down in 6th place in the first race. Unfortunately, Axel was dealing with a small tightness which hampered their second push, moving them from 5th down to 6th it was nonetheless the best result for Axel as a pilot, the best result for Tom as a brakeman, and as far as we’re aware, the highest ever finish for a T&T sled. Surrounded by only big-name nations like Canada, USA, China, and Korea, it was a statement race for the Island sled and let the world know, “we’re here, and we’re competitive”
The pair backed that up the next day with an 8th place, hitting PB’s on the start, and top speed! An almost ideal start to the racing season, when the goal was top-10 coming in.
However, on the third day, disaster struck. Coming around corner 6 a fraction too long, the sled rolled over to its left and we crashed. We were therefore left to ride the rest of the mile long track (a further 10 corners) upside down. Unfortunately, as the upturned sled and its two unlucky passengers didn’t cross the finish line the team was disqualified from the race. However, the priority of course became athlete safety, not race numbers. Axel was assessed for a concussion, and Tom treated for the burns. Although we slide on ice, the friction at the speeds we do is enough to remove the skin from whatever touches the ice. Though we wear Kevlar protective shirts, it still wasn’t enough to stop Tom from receiving a roughly 1-inch burn on his shoulder, Axel was cleared and negative for a concussion.
Crashes happen. They’re an unfortunate part of the sport we do. Though its incredibly unfortunate this happened in a race, both athletes are fine and ready to continue. The sled took a bit of damage, but we were able to fix that in a couple of days and get ready to move to Park City. Olympic qualification takes into account the best 7 (out of 8) races a pilot has. So, this won’t affect our points for the Olympics, but removes our margin for error going forward.
It has become tradition at this point that travel days simply will not go smoothly. Here’s a brief recount of the 16hr travel day that was supposed to take 5 hours. Rain in Seattle stopped our plane from leaving Vancouver, so they pulled everyone off the plane to wait in the airport. One hour later we boarded and flew to Seattle. We had of course missed our original connection, so boarded the next where we sat for an hour, only to find out that we had to disembark again, for the second time in one day, as the plane was damaged. We then board a different plane to sit on it for another hour to find out that it too was damaged, but could fly. By the time we landed we had also missed our car rental companies opening hours. Meanwhile there was the small matter of our house rental company cancelling our booking for no apparent reason mere hours before check in, and needing to find a new house to stay in for 20 days, on the fly!
But that’s not all folks. The resin used to fix the sled post-crash needed to cure, so we missed the first day of training, but we were able to join in the second and get things moving. However, we were the lucky ones. Because of the same weather that delayed our flights, the other teams’ sleds were not able to leave Whistler. As a result, the IBSF cancelled all bobsleigh training siting that if some sleds can’t train, then no one is allowed to.
So, at the time of writing, almost a week after arriving in Park City, we still do not know when or even if the sleds will arrive. So, we have had to sit and wait, and will remain waiting until something changes. It is entirely out of our control and incredibly frustrating. But the qualification road to the Olympics was never going to be easy. Perhaps the most frustrating part of all is that two new athletes flew out to Park City. Shomari, Shakeel’s brother, as well as Andre Marcano. Andre works full time and was only able to get one weekend to try and slide, and was unable to get in a sled at any point in his visit. However, in that time the team bonded well and we were able to cover every aspect of bobsleigh except the sliding itself!
Hopefully we can get back to racing as soon as possible, as Park City is one of the most fun tracks to drive in the world. But until then, we will train, relax, and be as ready as we can to hit the ground running.