Mother Russian Nature (2/14/13)

The top six drivers at the inaugural Whistler World Cup in 2009.
The same drivers finished top-six at the 2010 Olympic Winter
Games.

This coming weekend will mark not only the last bobsled and skeleton World Cup races of the season but the most closely-watched races this year, as they are the inaugural races on the new Olympic track in Sochi, Russia.  It may seem like anti-climactic scheduling being held after World Championships, but this race is heavily loaded with predictive value.

Sure, worlds are supposed to be a big deal, but they happen every year and thus don’t attract near the same interest or support of the Olympics.  It would be like celebrating high school graduation every year, sending out announcements and expecting yet another scrapbook in honor of your achievement.  This race, however, will not only be a preview of the long-awaited Olympic Games, but the first indicator of what the new track in town is all about.

Most bobsled tracks are built specifically for an Olympics, because why host a Games if you can’t build yourself a competitive advantage from the ground up?  On the World Cup circuit we get roughly 10 runs on each track.  That’s about 10 minutes total of training a year on each foreign track.  On our home tracks, however, we will get as many as 100 or more runs a year, easily 10 times as much as elsewhere.  It’s no wonder you typically see Americans on the podium at American tracks, Germans on the German ones, etc.  

 
Apparently "Cool Runnings" has been on repeat on the big
screen at the track in Sochi.

But despite the home track advantage, in my opinion, you will not see Russia “Own the Podium” as Canada had hoped to do in 2010; the other nations are just too strong.  Though Russia has some incredible athletes, they don’t have the depth to block out the rest of the world.  Not to mention this track was built in the wake of the tragedy marking the dangerous 2010 Whistler track. It is thus predictably low risk, allowing for a faster learning curve.

However, despite home-track efforts to keep the rest of the world on a slower learning curve, the show must go on and nothing will deter from the excitement this weekend.  As an athlete that has dealt with the frustration of expectations good and bad due to a track’s history, these races allow a blank slate.  Each track has a distinct personality that throughout the years we come to expect certain drivers, pushers, or nations to do well on.  But with Sochi we know nothing, there are no established tendencies and no clear equipment choices.  The only expectations are on the Russians.

 
View of the mountains through the track

Four years ago at this time we were in Whistler for the first time the track was open to all nations.  It was my very first World Cup bobsled race and I shocked my coaches (and myself) with a sixth-place finish.  If you look at the photo from that podium celebration, it was all the exact same drivers in the top-six at the Olympics.  The finishes this weekend will fuel the fear and the fire for next year, and mark the first pages in the story of the Sochi bobsled track.

Tune in live this weekend here. 

Schedule:

Friday, Feb. 15

3:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. EST) - Men's skeleton heat #1

5 p.m. (8 a.m. EST) - Men's skeleton heat #2

8 p.m. (11 a.m. EST) -Women's bobsled heat #1

9:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. EST) - Women's bobsled heat #2

 

Saturday, Feb. 16

8 a.m. (11 p.m. Friday)-Women's skeleton heat #1

10 a.m. (1 a.m. EST) -Women's skeleton heat #2

1 p.m.  (4 a.m. EST)- Men's two-man bobsled heat #1

2:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. EST)- Men's two-man bobsled heat #2

 

Sunday, Feb. 17

1:45 p.m. (4:45 a.m. EST)- Men's four-man bobsled heat #1

3:15 p.m. (6:15 a.m. EST)-Men's four-man bobsled race heat #2