David Epstein
Friday February 19th, 2010

WHISTLER, British Columbia -- The controversial track at the Whistler Sliding Centre -- where Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a crash last Friday -- was again stirring debate after seven bobsleds crashed on the first day of two-man training. But despite the requests of some athletes and coaches, course officials say they have no plans to adjust the ice on the track.

Duncan Harvey, a pusher on the Australian team, said after his first training run on Wednesday, "I won't lie, I had some nerves. Everyone talks about this track, a little too much. It gets in everyone's head." Harvey's sled crashed on the second training run, also on Wednesday, and Harvey was taken to a nearby hospital. He had back pain after the crash, but was released from the hospital and cleared for training on Thursday.

Steve Holcomb, the U.S.'s top driver, made it through unscathed, as did the world's other leading drivers, but his push teammate Steve Mesler was among the bobsledders who said that the track could use some ice-sculpting.

"The curves are too much made for the lugers," said Swiss driver Daniel Schmidt.

Mesler said that in particular the ice at the entrance to the infamous "50/50 curve" -- so named because sliders joke that that is the chance of making it through right-side up -- is built up too much. As a result, he said, some sleds are coming onto the 50-50 curve too late, causing problems for them.

"A lot of coaches are complaining," Mesler said. "They're going to have to change the ice, and they have time to do it."

However, officials at the sliding center -- which saw several more crashes, but no serious injuries, in Thursday's training runs -- said that they plan no changes to the ice. They pointed out that crashes on days one and two of Olympic training are common. Officials who attended a Thursday morning meeting of the sliding-center venue team said that the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and in Turin 2006 had more frequent crashes on the first training day than did Whistler.

Top bobsledders said they were not surprised by the training accidents.

"It's a fast track and guys haven't slid for a few weeks because of the traveling, so guys are rusty," said Mesler. Additionally, drivers test different sled runners in the early training to find which ones are right for the course conditions. "Any sport where you're going fast there's going to be that risk," said Canada's top pilot, Lyndon Rush of the training crashes, "but it's not a dangerous -- or the most dangerous -- track."

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