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American bobsledder Rohbock calls sliding track ‘ridiculous'

By Associated Press
Sunday, February 21, 2010; D07

WHISTLER, B.C. -- Calling the Olympic sliding track "stupid fast," American women's bobsledder Shauna Rohbock said the venue where a luger was killed last week could generate speeds that are too dangerous for racing.

"It's just so fast," Rohbock said Friday night, later adding, "I think they went a little overboard on this track."

In an interview with the Associated Press, the silver medalist at the 2006 Turin Games said she has felt this way since testing the course for the first time nearly two years ago.

It's so fast, Rohbock said, that women's sleds will "be breaking the men's track record by race time. It's ridiculous."

Rohbock said speeds in the final turns of the 16-curve track were pushing the boundaries of what she thought she could handle.

"I wish everybody knew what we saw at the bottom," Rohbock said. "Your brain almost can't catch up with what your hands need to do. I think at some point it's going to exceed that and that's when problems will happen."

Asked if she has ever experienced speeds similar to the ones on Whistler's track, Rohbock said, "Never."

"St. Moritz is one of the fastest tracks, but it's spread out," she said. "I think the problem here is the curves are back to back in the bottom. They are really close and with the speed and having them back to back as soon as you get in trouble it just multiplies, and then it's trouble."

Rohbock and many of the women's bobsledders who will compete on the track next week got their first on-ice look at the facility during a supplemental training session Friday night. The extra session was added by international officials to help racers familiarize themselves with the demanding track. The session was added following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumarishtavili, who was killed when he lost control of his sled in the final curve at the Whistler Sliding Center track and hit a steel pole.

In interviews after the first round of official training Saturday, most of Rohbock's colleagues agreed that the Whistler track is incredibly fast, with Canadian Helen Upperton -- who has more than 150 runs on the surface -- saying it pushes drivers "close to the limit." Of the 14 drivers who made themselves available after training Saturday, only one -- American Erin Pac -- said she didn't feel completely safe on the ice. Pac, though, also said that while the course is "definitely a challenge," high speed is "part of the sport." She also said she had no reservations about competing on the track.

"I have not made it through the 50-50 once yet clean," said Pac, referring to the area around Curve 13 that picked up the moniker last year after a number of men's sleds crashed around that point. "And every time it's a huge struggle for me. The track has been different every time we've come here and you just have to re-learn how to get through there and I clearly have not learned it yet."

Still, some continue to offer the place rave reviews.

"It's my favorite track in the world," Romanian driver Carmen Radenovic said.

Just seven drivers were unavailable to comment, including the three Germans, who cited a scheduling conflict. Through a team spokeswoman, they said they had no concerns.

For the second straight session, there was just one crash -- a Russian sled lost control just past the midway point of the course. No injuries were reported.

Rohbock said officials have discussed sanding the runners on the bobsleds to slow them, which she thinks would be a good idea.

Sanding runners a certain way can slow down bobsleds, and is not uncommon when conditions warrant. FIBT spokesman Don Krone said runners are always sanded to adjust to conditions.

"It's a fast and technical track, and I'm not going to respond to individual comments by athletes," Krone said. "It's abundantly clear that it's a technically challenging track. I think the skeleton competition the past few days showed that it's fast and challenging and makes for great racing and that's what the sport is about."

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