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Canadian, international sliders watching each other

Teams taking advantage of last chance to train on Whistler track before 2010 Olympics


Canada's sliders may be training hard in Whistler this week, but they will also be keeping an eye on their international competition as bobsled, skeleton and luge athletes take to the ice.

"It is nice to see other people's lines," said Helen Upperton, the pilot of the Canada 1 bobsled and a top ranked pilot.

"You can learn a lot from watching other people slide and I'm sure the other countries are glad we are here too so they can watch us."

Veteran bobsled pilot Pierre Lueders said when the Canadians are on the track they are there to train and focus on their own performance.

"For me it is about getting in some good runs," he said.

"It is a good opportunity to see what the other nations have done over the summer. (But) you never know who is playing games so we will just stick to our own plans."

Canadian sliders may never be so ready to take on the world as they gather this week at the Whistler Sliding Centre for the last training runs in Canada before the 2010 Olympic qualifying races begin in Park City, Utah next week.

"I think Canada has an awesome chance of lots of podium finishes," said Amanda Stepenko, the pilot of the Canada 3 women's bobsleigh team.

"We did really well last year and I think we can only improve on that with all the extra training we have had."

Canada is hoping to qualify a third sled in 2010.

"I am confident (of getting the third sled qualified for the Games), though Germany 3, Swiss 3 and USA 3 are all very good teams," said Stepenko.

"But I have been around sliding for a long time. This is my eighth season so I think I can lay the smack down."

There have been public complaints from international teams about poor access to the sliding centre while Canadians have received lots of ice time. But, said Lueders: "There has been plenty of opportunity for them to get used to the track.

"They can complain all they want. It is what it is and it is no different than what we have gone through in the past."

Upperton agreed: "When you host an Olympic Games you have a home field advantage and it is the same for every country that (hosts a Games)," she said.

Upperton said the teams are feeling more confident on the Whistler track. Last spring training season there were several crashes on Corner 13, nicknamed 50-50. Upperton said requests were put in to work on the corner to create a better transition for bobsleighs.

"We said it would be a shame for there to be a lot of crashes at the Olympics," said Upperton, who is coming back from detached ribs last year.

"Whomever stands on the podium at the Olympics it should be about who is the most skilled and has the best four heats and not who is lucky enough to get through the bottom of the track without crashing. About 50 per cent of our teams were crashing in the spring when we came here.

"We feel good about the track now and I feel a lot better about the changes that they have done."

Leuders, aiming for his fifth Olympics in 2010, will not be driving the Whistler Bomber this season, but has returned to an old sled, which has been rebuilt.

He is hoping that a return to the familiar will get him back on track after a challenging season last year. Over his 20-year career he has won 88 World Cup medals, but only three of those were last year. He was third in two-man bob with David Bissett in Whistler last February.

Teams training this week include Germany, USA, Russia, Switzerland, Austria and Jamaica.

The Jamaican bobsled team, which has set up a welcome house at the Savage Beagle nightclub, has been renting a Canadian sled for their training runs but hopes to have a sled of their own for the season.

Using different sleds all the time is a challenge said driver Hannukkah Wallace.

"We need some good equipment," he said. "It is very important to have your own sled. Each time you check in and you have a different sled you have to start all over again to get familiar with it."