Olympic training to begin for US bobsled, skeleton

Updated: October 25, 2009, 1:59 PM ET
Associated Press

Individual tryouts are complete for U.S. bobsled and skeleton Olympic hopefuls.

Starting Monday, it's about becoming a team.

The new U.S. World Cup teams headed to western Canada on Sunday for two weeks of training on the track that will be used for the Vancouver Olympics this February. It's an important time for the team, since no U.S. skeleton racer or bobsled driver will likely get more than 30 or so runs down the course in Whistler, British Columbia.

And until the Vancouver Games begin, this two-week look is the last the Americans will get.

"The more information we share, what equipment we're on, what runners we're using, what we're doing in every curve that works and doesn't work, we're going to be so much stronger because of it," women's skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace said.

"The Canadians have had hundreds of runs on this track. So it's really critical for us to come together as a team and put the track puzzle together."

The schedule calls for the U.S. contingent to be in Whistler until about Nov. 7. Most sleds will get two or three trips down the track each day.

Pikus-Pace, Katie Uhlaender and Rebecca Sorensen made the World Cup team in women's skeleton after four rounds of team trials ended Saturday in Park City, Utah.

Men's skeleton racers Eric Bernotas, Zach Lund and John Daly also made the team, as did men's bobsled drivers Steven Holcomb, Todd Hays and John Napier and women's bobsled drivers Shauna Rohbock, Erin Pac and Bree Schaaf.

"Now it's time to get down to business," Pac said.

Along with the drivers, 18 bobsled push athletes (12 men, six women) were picked for the World Cup team, although no final decisions have been made yet on how the pushers will be divided among the drivers once World Cup racing begins next month in Park City.

The travel roster for this trip to Whistler was rounded out by skeleton racers Matt Antoine and Annie O'Shea. Getting them time on the Olympic track makes sense, since Uhlaender, Bernotas and Lund are all fighting injuries.

"It protects us, because you never know," U.S. assistant skeleton coach Greg Sand said.

The World Cup teams are not the Olympic teams, but it's a strong likelihood that the group headed back to Vancouver in February will be composed largely -- if not entirely -- from those who'll be training there over the next couple weeks.

In women's skeleton, Courtney Yamada-Anderson missed qualifying for the World Cup team after losing a standings tiebreaker for third place in the team trials to Sorensen, and immediately retired. It's doubtful that any men's skeleton racer could make a serious Olympic bid outside the four chosen for international training. Barring injury, it's also unlikely that any bobsled drivers make up the ground needed to supplant someone already on the World Cup team, either.

Holcomb is a reigning world champion, Rohbock won a silver medal at the 2006 Turin Games. They were both exempt from the team trials, so their season really begins in earnest this week.

And like in skeleton, the bobsledders will likely find themselves sharing at least some information on the Whistler track.

"It's kind of like a family, but we're all out to get each other's jobs at the same time," Holcomb said. "It comes down to who is the best when it counts. I think we all understand that we'll need our best to be at their best at the Olympics to beat the Germans and everybody else."

Luge won't complete its team trials process until mid-November, then opens World Cup season Nov. 20 in Calgary.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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