Bobsled crashes are a concern at Winter Games

From News Services
Friday, February 19, 2010; D06

Bobsledders are learning the Olympic sliding track is tough to tame, even for the world's best.

At least 11 two-man bobsleds have spilled sideways in the first two days of training at the Vancouver Games, with two athletes -- including a legitimate gold-medal favorite -- possibly knocked out of the competition before it even begins this weekend.

Spills are common in bobsledding, but since these topples come less than a week after the death of a Georgian men's luge athlete in a high-speed training wreck, speed and safety have once again been thrust into the forefront at the Olympic track.

Beat Hefti, this season's World Cup two-man overall champion, missed training Thursday with a headache after crashing on his first practice run the previous night. Hefti was checked out at a hospital for bruises on his head and body, as well as cuts on one of his legs, Switzerland team officials said in a release. He'll need medical clearance -- plus clean runs on Friday -- in order to race this weekend.

"His coach said he's going to train" Friday, said Don Krone, spokesman for the International Federation of Bobsled and Tobogganing.

Race officials said no serious injuries were reported Thursday.

Bobsledders and skeleton athletes use the same track where Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili suffered fatal injuries when he lost control of his luge sled and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 90 mph.

"We're all family," USA-1 bobsled pilot Steven Holcomb said. "It's unfortunate; at the same time, we have to go out there and do our job. We know he was giving it everything he had, so that's what we're going to do."

Austrians threaten protest

The ski jumping rivalry between Austria and Switzerland intensified Thursday when the Austrian team accused gold medalist Simon Ammann of using improper bindings and threatened to protest if he doesn't change them for the next event.

The Austrians told the International Ski Federation that Ammann's bindings are unsafe and improve his aerodynamics in a way that has not been approved.

"They give you an advantage, but it's too dangerous," Austrian team spokesman Raimund Fabi said. "The skier gets flatter in the air, the angle gets flatter. So you can lie better in the air, and therefore you go further."

The Austrians are not challenging the normal hill result, but say they will protest after the first round of Saturday's large hill event if Ammann uses the same gear.

Horst Nilgen, spokesman for the ski federation's technical committee, will examine the bindings and determine if they are acceptable.

Swiss jumper Andreas Kuettel uses the same kind of bindings, and said he was confident it met regulations. Normal bindings use an elastic strap at the back to keep the boot in place. The modified Swiss version has a curved iron stick, Kuettel said.

NHL's decision on hold

The NHL might not decide until 2012 or later whether it's going to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday that no decision is imminent about possibly shutting down for two weeks to accommodate an Olympics in which some games would be played in the middle of the night in North America, thus affecting TV viewership and interest.

Before the NHL makes up its mind, a collecting bargaining agreement between owners and players must be negotiated -- the current deal expires after the 2010-11 season -- and American TV rights must be awarded. Bettman said the decision could be several years off.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company