U.S. bobsleigh legend Brown hopes to drive local interest in sport 

Four new training sleds at Whistler Sliding Centre making learning curve for pilots simpler

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - test drive Bobsleigh coach Pat Brown, right, instructs a pilot using a new training sled designed by NASCAR legend Geoff Bodine at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
  • photo submitted
  • test drive Bobsleigh coach Pat Brown, right, instructs a pilot using a new training sled designed by NASCAR legend Geoff Bodine at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

When it comes to the sport of bobsleigh, the Whistler Sliding Centre's (WSC) Pat Brown already has a long list of accomplishments under his belt.

He was an athlete on the United States bobsleigh squad in the mid-1980s, until he was asked to coach Jamaica's first-ever national team for the Calgary Olympics, serving as a loose inspiration for John Candy's character, Irving Blitzer, in the 1993 hit film Cool Runnings. He coached America's first women's bobsleigh team at Nagano in 1998, and led the South Korean men to their Olympic debut in Whistler four years ago.

But now, one of the most respected figures in North American bobsleigh has perhaps the biggest challenge of his career: building B.C.'s developmental program and making Whistler the home of the country's elite training track.

First hired two years ago, Brown has spearheaded the WSC's public sport experience program, which gives anyone interested the opportunity to ride in a sled with a seasoned pilot in tow. Issued a two-year working visa before this year's winter season, Brown has also been tasked with growing B.C. Bobsleigh's developmental system in a sport that has seen interest wane recently.

"We've had a program where we've been trying to develop some of our local pilots who started out in the sport, but there's been a real decline in the ability to gather membership within the bobsleigh world, and that's unfortunate for us," said Whistler Sliding Centre director Tracy Seitz. "A lot of that was based around the fact that there wasn't any kind of consistent coaching."

And with Whistler already home to so many adrenaline junkies and elite athletes, Brown sees the sport of bobsleigh as a logical fit for the resort, and is on the hunt for teenage athletes in the hopes of sending Canada's first ever bobsleigh competitor to the Youth Olympic Games in Norway two years from now.

"Pretty much everybody that lives here in Whistler is an extreme junkie, and this fits the bill, it's just getting the word out that people can come and do this," Brown said. "We can hold driving schools and little one-day camps, and let everybody try it, and they may not be the ones that'll turn into an Olympian, but they'll go around and tell everybody what a great time they had and hopefully we will get that one Olympian out of the mix."

Key to building the sliding centre's developmental program are the four specially designed Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project sleds purchased late this season to use for future training. The sleds, which costs about $5,000 apiece, were originally designed by NASCAR great Geoff Bodine for the U.S. bobsleigh program, and acquired for use at the Whistler track through Brown's connections. The plank sleds are perfect for beginners, as the front nose doesn't twist like a normal articulated sled, making it easier for pilots to make it down the track without crashing.

"The (Bo-Dyn) sled has a much lower centre of gravity, it's not articulated so it doesn't want to climb so quickly when you come into a curve, it just takes a nice level line around the curve as you're driving down the track," explained Brown. "So it's a really good, safe learning tool for us, and anybody can drive them."

The training sleds were tested on the track near the end of the season, taken off the men's luge start, Curve 3, and even with speeds of up to 120km/hr, novice pilots were not deterred, Seitz said.

"Completely green people — people who've never seen the entire track — are making it down, and that's huge for the program because it can generate participation," he said.

With the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run at the 2010 Games, the Whistler track has seen its fair share of controversy, but Brown said he relishes the chance to train new pilots on the elite track.

"Obviously this track had challenges from the beginning, and that's basically what drew me here, because I love a challenge," he said. "If I can teach people to drive sleds here, then they can drive anywhere in the world."

For more information, visit www.slidebc.ca or www.whistlerslidingcentre.com.



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