International federations approve bob/luge track geometry 

VANOC expects to break ground on $55 million project next spring

With speeds clocking in at 136 kilometres an hour, a vertical drop of 149 metres, 16 tight corners, and G-forces approaching 5Gs, it may seem like a joyride on the Sea to Sky Highway in a brand new Porsche.

But this is no highway.

It’s the run dynamics of Whistler’s Olympic bob/luge track, set to become one of the most formidable tracks in North America.

"It’s a technically demanding track," said Jan Jansen, project manager of Whistler venues for the 2010 Games.

"It’s one that has a lot of challenging corners."

With preliminary track geometry and associated run dynamics approved last month by both the International Luge Federation and the International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation, Whistler’s Sliding Centre, home of the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events in the 2010 Winter Games, is one step closer to breaking ground in spring 2005.

"Both our national sport organization as well as the international federations are certainly endorsing the track that we’ve designed so far," said Jansen.

The idea behind this track, explained Jansen, is to create a design that complements the three existing Olympic tracks in North America.

They range in levels of difficulty, with Calgary’s track considered the least challenging, Salt Lake City’s track rated somewhere in the middle of the difficulty scale and Lake Placid’s track in New York taking the top spot.

"From an athlete development standpoint you’re going to want to have a variety of tracks," said Jansen.

Whistler’s track is slated to be on par with Lake Placid’s.

"Looking at the G-forces and the speed it certainly will be up there in terms of the level of difficulty," he said.

And yet, the true test will come once the track is finally complete and the athletes have a chance to test it out he said.

With the track geometry that’s planned, the top speed at the bottom of the track for the average athlete on the Whistler course will be 136 km/h.

But Jansen said they would expect to see the top athletes reaching speeds of more than 140 km/h. There are some tracks in Europe where drivers can push it to 145 km/h. Often, the times get faster and the speeds go up as drivers become more familiar with the track and technology pushes the sport to a higher level.

Whistler’s track will be 1,460 metres long for the bobsleigh events, with a different finish line at the 1,380 metres mark for the luge.

The average grade will be 11.6 per cent.

Yet while Olympic organizers want to make the track difficult for the athletes, they are also cognizant of future plans for the track.

Athletes are sure to train at the Whistler Sliding Centre in the future, but tourists will also get to experience increasing G-forces as they hurtle down Blackcomb Mountain.

"You want to be careful that you don’t create a track that visitors may not want to use either," said Jansen.

"So there’s a balance."

The $55 million Sliding Centre will operate post-Games in the summer and winter.

That tourist revenue is expected to pay for some of the operating costs in the years to come.

Tourists will head down the course in the summertime on wheeled bobsleds. In the winter, from November to March, the track will be iced. Tourists will still be able to experience the thrill of the track but a driver will guide the sled down the ice.

"It’s a high level of skill," said Jansen.

"They just make it look easy."

Built just above the heart of the village, close to Base II on Blackcomb Mountain, the central location is expected to draw tourist traffic to the venue.

"I think we have a real benefit in terms of the location of this facility," said Jansen.

Jansen said organizers passed a critical point last month when both the luge and bobsleigh federations signed off on the track geometry. (The skeleton falls under the bobsleigh federation).

"The track geometry is a huge sign off," he said.

"The federations have different viewpoints on what a track should be."

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Games has issued two Requests For Proposals for the consultant teams.

One RFP is for the engineering services and the other for the venue design itself.

Jansen said it’s too early to talk about specifics of the venue development.

He did say organizers are planning to use "green" building practices, which is something the venue consultants will be charged with pursuing.

There will be room at the venue for 12,000 spectators with both standing room and seating at the finish and start lines.

The estimated cost of the project is $55 million, including $8 million for site works, $42 million for track construction and $5 million for site infrastructure.

The project is scheduled to break ground in spring 2005, with a goal of being operational for the 2007/08 season.

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