Bobsleigh, skeleton athletes coming home 

North American tour kicks off in Whistler today (Feb. 2)

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The last stretch of the FIBT Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup tour winds through North America, kicking off with three days of races at Whistler Sliding Centre starting today (Feb. 2)

While the athletes train here regularly, this is their competition here since the first event of the 2010-2011 season in December 2010.

The Whistler races will be followed by a World Cup in Calgary from Feb. 5-11 and the World Championships at Lake Placid from Feb. 13-26.

Canada has medal hopefuls in the event on all three days.

Today, Thursday, Feb. 2, the women's skeleton takes place at 3 p.m. with Melissa Hollingsworth leading the way. So far this season she has been on the podium four times with a gold medal and three bronze medals to her credit.

Also worth watching is Amy Gough, who has a gold medal to her credit this season, and Sarah Reid, who started the season with three results in the top eight, but struggled in the next three races.

Next up is the women's bobsleigh, which takes place at 6:30 p.m. The team to watch is Olympic champion pilot Kaillie Humphries with new brakewoman Emily Baadsvik. They are a new team, but hit success early on with a win in the second event in France, as well as a silver and bronze medal.

Friday starts off with the men's skeleton at 3 p.m.

Olympic champion Jon Montgomery is taking the season off to train and prepare for the 2012-2013 Olympic qualifier season. While the men's team hasn't won a medal yet this season they are showing improvement over the season and in the last event John Fairbairn was ninth, Michael Douglas 17th and Eric Neilson 18th.

The sliders will be competing on a home track, which means they have a slight advantage going into this event — skeleton athletes can't see much heading down the course head first and face down at 140km/h, and memorizing a track's turns and timing is crucial. The sleds can be steered using your shoulder and knees to apply pressure, but the blades are rounded and movements have to be subtle if you don't want to come out of a corner too late and bump into the opposite wall.

The second Friday event is the men's two-man bobsleigh at 6:30 p.m. The Canada 1 sled is piloted by Lyndon Rush, who has a few podiums to his credit this season including a silver medal, and has not finished outside of the top eight.

Rush also knows the Whistler track well and has had success here in the past — a bronze medal in the Olympic four-man race, then a silver medal in two-man bobsleigh at the FIBT World Cup in December 2010.

Rush is also fourth in the FIBT rankings by just eight points, and a good show at home could move him up a spot in the overall.

Rush and partner Jesse Lumsden may be the only Canadian World Cup team at the start gate this year, with pilot Chris Spring and his teammates still injured after a serious crash in Germany last month.

Saturday, Feb. 4 is the four-man bobsleigh race, and Rush will once again be piloting the Canada 1 sled. The competition gets underway at 4 p.m.

Tickets to the venue are $10 and are available online at www.whistler.com, in person at the Whistler Visitor Centre or at the base of the Excalibur Gondola just before the start of the event. Day-of-race tickets are cash only.

There's no parking on site but the gondola is free to use for ticket holders and it's a short walk from mid station to the venue. No flash photography is allowed as the light can distract the drivers.

During the event a festival area will be hosted in the lower loop of the track, with food, drinks, coffee and beer available. There will be fireworks following the awards ceremoney.

For more on the event visit www.whistlerslidingcentre.ca. Information on the athletes is at www.bosleigh.ca.

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