Whistler luge athlete Reid Watts is preparing for a full World Cup season, and the International Luge Federation (FIL) is on the same page.
FIL confirmed its previously released list of 2020-21 stops in late June with no location changes, so the World Championships set to come to the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSL) in February 2021 are still a go at this point, pending any developments with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m excited. I am optimistic that we’ll be able to race a full season, but this situation is much bigger than us and it’s more important than sliding around the world,” Watts said. “We’ve just got to wait things out. There’s so much uncertainty, and that’s all over, there’s uncertainty with everybody.
“We’re still training and we’re still planning on going full steam ahead.”
Whistler Sport Legacies president and CEO Roger Soane said the sliding centre’s featured sports—luge, bobsleigh and skeleton—are all preparing for full and normal seasons, with Plan Bs in place if they end up racing less.
“You have to plan for it. The hard thing is trying to react,” he said.
While the FIL didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding its potential precautions and procedures, Soane shared that the organization is planning to hold its season without spectators.
“They’re planning to still be operating under some restrictions when it comes to crowd size. They’re planning for a [TV-only event] in Whistler,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a long time between now and January [when athletes would start to arrive] and things may change, but that’s what they’re planning.”
While disappointing to not welcome fans to the track for such a major event, the track’s workflow would be eased if those protocols were still in place for the World Championships, Soane said.
“Without spectators, the event is a lot easier to plan because the field of play is the field of play and it’s really very little difference from having the teams here versus having training here,” he said. “When we do events, the biggest change to our daily routine is having spectators onsite.”
The one potential challenge, Soane explained, is at the start house, where athletes will generally congregate before their respective runs.
Potential fixes include adding more time between each racer to allow for the same amount of warm-up time, or hold warm-ups further away before transporting athletes to the start. While luge should run smoothly, especially with the World Championships coming late in the season and affording the FIL the opportunity to work out the kinks, the toughest situation will arise when the track hosts four-man bobsleigh, though Soane expects a resolution to be found.
While the full schedule is not officially out, Soane added that FIL is planning to allow athletes enough time between contests to fulfill the host country’s quarantine requirements.
In addition to the World Championships, the WSL is anticipating being tabbed for a North American Cup bobsleigh and skeleton event in November, likely the second race of the season after a stop in Lake Placid, N.Y.
For his part, Watts would miss fans in the stands, but if that’s what has to happen for racing to go ahead, then he’s for it.
“It’s always great to see the spectators and race your performance off their enthusiasm, but as long as I’m racing, I’m going to be a happy guy,” he said.
As for his offseason training, Watts noted that he’d normally be in Calgary by this time in the summer, but the pandemic has kept him home in Whistler.
“It’s obviously been a very different summer training than we’d planned and had set out to do, but so far, it’s been pretty good. It’s been nice to catch up and spend a little more time out here—actually have summer out here,” he said. “It wasn’t until three weeks ago I was allowed to be back in a proper gym.
“I’ve been doing workouts in my backyard and in the garage just to make it work.”
Without the benefit of a full complement of gym equipment at home, Watts has adapted his workouts to achieve the same effects, such as the current high-tension training he’s doing. While challenging, he also appreciates the chance to adapt and figure out how to do what he needs to.
“We’ve been doing those workouts but without all the fancy workout equipment we have access to,” he said. “It’s almost been a prison workout for me, but it’s been fun.”