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U.S. sliders get a first look at Olympic track in Sochi

U.S. bobsledders Elana Meyers and Katie Eberling are spending this week at the site of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Their challenge now becomes actually qualifying for those games.

Meyers and Eberling are among the first international racers to get a look at Russia's newly built sliding track, which is opening its doors to a small number of bobsled, skeleton and luge athletes from around the world this week. Having sliders on the ice is a significant step for the facility, where some construction projects are ongoing but the actual track has been completed.

"I'm so blessed and honored to be here," Meyers said from Russia on Tuesday. "It's pretty neat to be able to help my team in any way possible. And it's pretty awesome knowing that regardless of who's representing the U.S. in 2014, I might have played some role."

USA Luge is being represented at the testing this week by Chris Mazdzer, who figures to be among a top candidate for the men's Olympic team in 2014. International officials said Russian sliders got their first runs down their new home track last week.

Meyers and Eberling won a bronze medal at last month's world championships in Lake Placid. Meyers was the driver of that sled. She was the brakeman for another sled that won an Olympic bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Her experience at the track located about an hour from Sochi will be invaluable for other American sliders as they ramp up to 2014, since they likely won't get a chance to see the facility until planned test events there next season.

"It's pretty cool for Katie and I to be the first U.S. athletes to slide this track," Meyers said. "It's somewhat intimidating being the first U.S. driver on the track because of my limited seat time. I've got the least amount of driving experience on the World Cup team. I'm still learning quite a bit in the front seat, so to provide information to drivers that have more seat time than me can be quite intimidating."

Safety has been a major concern throughout the construction of the track, especially after the death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training run at the facility used for sliding at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Russia luge coach Valery Silakov told the RIA Novosti news agency that the track is "not very challenging" and "it's unlikely that there will be a lot of falls."

From her early assessment, Meyers seemed to agree, though she noted that building early speed will be crucial.

"The track isn't a very technical track," Meyers said. "It's pretty smooth and flowing. ... There will be some parts that are important for speed purposes, but this track is mostly a `feeling' track, where drivers have to rely more on their feeling and rhythm than really a typical driving track like Lake Placid."

Meyers and Eberling got two runs on Monday and three more Tuesday, with hopes of taking as many as 14 before returning home.

"The weather conditions have made it difficult," Meyers said. "Tons of snow. So hopefully we can get the maximum amount of trips."

Russian officials have long insisted that the track would be ready on time, and be world-class when completed. Meyers said Russian staffers working at the facility have been as helpful as possible, even helping athletes move their sleds and taking extra security precautions.

"You can tell they've put a lot of time and money into it," British skeleton athlete David Swift, one of the sliders at the track this week, wrote on Twitter.

Meyers said it's impossible to be at the track and not daydream about what competing at the 2014 Sochi Games would be like. Even with the world championships medal, her spot on the 2014 U.S. team is not yet guaranteed.

"My main focus is improving every single run and learning as much as I can, so I can't get too far ahead of myself," Meyers said. "I've still got to get to 2014 first, and with a team as talented as ours, it won't be easy."