IBSF hosting athletes at WSC 

Fourteen countries train as part of emerging nations program

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - Bob in track Roughly 50 athletes from 14 countries took part in the IBSF's Emerging Nations camp.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • Bob in track Roughly 50 athletes from 14 countries took part in the IBSF's Emerging Nations camp.

From Oct. 16 to 26, the Whistler Sliding Centre hosted some emerging nations in the bobsleigh and skeleton worlds.

Of the 14 nations that trained at the Whistler Sliding Centre, Jamaica is arguably the country most associated with sliding sports, in part because of 1993 movie Cool Runnings, the story of the country's team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

But the program is still a work in progress and the Jamaican team was invited to the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation's camp along with Australia, Brazil, Croatia and Nigeria for bobsleigh while Australia, Belgium, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Nigeria, Romania, Chinese Taipei and the U.S. Virgin Islands sent skeleton athletes.

Jamaican bobsled driver Seldwyn Morgan said as a younger competitor, at just 24, he's glad to train alongside his peers who are on the same level as they can all learn from one another.

"I am loving it," he said. "I've gotten way better. You have time to relax and think about what you're doing more than just going into the (North American Championships)."

Morgan got into the sport after attending a training camp at his college back home in Jamaica three years ago, where he was tested for abilities that would transfer to bobsleigh. After deciding to dedicate his career to bobsleigh, he's hoping to be more than a curiosity on the World Cup circuit.

"We don't want to be that emerging-nation team that is just showing up. We're here to perform. We're here to compete. We're here to show the world that we have the potential to be world class," he said. "That's what we're here for."

Though the nations are on the rise, some of the athletes have already reached the top level. Though Katie Tannenbaum of the U.S. Virgin Islands has competed in 14 BMW World Cup races the past two seasons, and is set for another season on the tour, she appreciated the chance to get extra run volume through the camp.

"They (IBSF) provide ice time. In addition to the expenses of it, it can be difficult to get time booked. A lot of nations will book a couple hours on a track and they have enough sliders to fill that and they pay however many hundreds of dollars," she said. "When you only have one or two people from your country, you're not able to do something like that. Finding places and times you can slide can be really tricky."

In addition to the ice time and instruction from four coaches, the athletes' meals and accommodations are covered as well.

"It makes a big difference. When you come into a race, you only get six training runs," she said. "We're going to be out here for two weeks so athletes get three or four times that before official training starts."

Being the track where sliders are capable of the fastest speeds and of feeling the highest G-force levels, Tannenbaum noted athletes take their initial runs at one of the lower start heights before working their way up as some athletes haven't even necessarily taken a proper run before showing up.

"This is a track you want to get time to get comfortable on," she said. "When you have a race situation where you only have six training runs, you want to get to the top as fast as possible. You might move to the top before you're totally comfortable.

"Having this amount of time, athletes can stay at the lower start until they feel comfortable."

The camp will also give Tannenbaum a leg up on this season as she looks to set new highs on the track, seeking a higher finish than the career-high 20th she's hit three times, as well as faster down times and quicker starts.

"The Virgin Islands doesn't have a lot of winter-sports athletes and we just went through two really awful Category-5 hurricanes," said Tannenbaum. "This season, especially, I want to represent us properly on the world stage and show the people of the world what the Virgin Islands is capable of."

Hailing from Great Britain, 2009 World Championship two-woman gold medallist Nicola Minichiello knows what it's like to be an athlete without an arena.

Now the North American coordinator for the IBSF, she hopes to give the roughly 50 attending athletes a chance to excel by giving them a proper opportunity to train.

"High-performance sport is always so much focused around medals, but the Olympic ideal is also about having as many people from as many different nations competing and having the opportunity," she said. "Being smart and using some solid development principles, I was able to become a world champion and now I can pass on that knowledge and give these guys the opportunity to compete on a level playing field."

And though some athletes and coaches may not be able to communicate traditionally because of language barriers, they are working together to figure out how to get the message across, Minichiello said.

"English is pretty much the universal language for the sliding sports," she said. "What the coaches have to do is get the instructions and really detailed elements of driving over using as many different descriptions as they can — using their hands, even using visual cues."

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