Weather keeps sliding teams off track
LAKE PLACID – After a few unwanted and unplanned days off, the U.S. bobsled, skeleton and luge teams are getting back on the ice.
And for some sliders, there isn’t much time to get ready for some critical opening races in this Olympic season.
The sliding track at Mount Van Hoevenberg just outside of Lake Placid is scheduled to reopen today, three days before the planned Saturday start of team-selection races for luge, women’s bobsled and two-man bobsled. Unseasonably warm temperatures and some strong storms this week rendered the ice unusable, and kept most sliders off the track since Sunday.
“It’s definitely a tease, that’s for sure,” U.S. skeleton athlete John Daly said. “There’s no one really to blame. It’s the weather. You get to get on the ice, it’s Olympic season, you’re ready to go and then they’re like, ‘Well, it’s going to be two more days before you can get back on it.’ It’s a tease.”
The track opened for the season – that was the plan, anyway – on Oct. 1, with officials aiming for an earlier than usual start. And they were able to have ice that day, with some USA Luge athlete hitting the track to open the season on a chilly morning.
By the end of that session, the air temperature had gone from the low 40s to the mid-60s, and it seemed as if track workers have been scrambling to fend off Mother Nature since.
“I would love to be on the ice, as opposed to hanging out,” said Erin Hamlin, a veteran Olympian and former women’s luge world champion. “But it’s been nice to get some other stuff done. I’ve been trying to utilize my time wisely.”
Built into the concrete track is miles and miles of piping, with anhydrous ammonia running through those tubes. The ammonia is used to regulate the temperature of the concrete; the warmer the air, the colder they make the ammonia in an effort to keep the ice that covers the inside of the chute intact.
The magic number, sliders have often said, is 55 degrees – around there, workers can keep the ice in good shape. Anything warmer than that, particularly this early in the season, things can get iffy. And it’s been the warmest beginning to October around the Lake Placid area in eight years, with temperatures reaching at least 70 degrees seven times in a 10-day span ending Monday.
On Tuesday, things got more seasonable, with midday highs in Lake Placid in the mid-to-upper 50s.
“It’s half expected up here this early in the fall,” said Hamlin, who was among a group of USA Luge athletes who got some very early season training in last week at Lillehammer, Norway, then returned to Lake Placid and have pretty much been playing the waiting game since. “But it would be nice to settle into a routine.”
Weather is even affecting the Olympic Training Center, where many athletes take up residence while training in Lake Placid. A fierce rainstorm Monday led to some flooding of a small number of rooms there, Daly said, only adding to the weather-related frustrations for some.
By today, they hope everything returns to normal. Luge athletes are scheduled to hit the track at 7:30 a.m., with bobsledders following and then skeleton athletes in the evening.
“There’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to improv,” Daly said. “Hey, races can be like this, too. It can be unpredictable. You’ve got to get used to it. They can say it’s just like every other year, every other race, but this is an Olympic year. Everyone knows there’s something bigger happening this year.”