Somewhere during the World Cup Men’s race one of the Italian coaches learned that a number of the officials at the the start were also sliders.
“Yes. Not as well as your guys but yes.”
“That’s good. You compete?”
“Yes. Tomorrow for Empire State Games. Its like a mini winter Olympics.”
“That’s good.” (with a twinkle in his eyes).
Saturday the professionals cleared out and the fans went home. No more Team Hamlin, Clukey or Mazdzer to cheer for us. The track was left to the people who slide, just for fun. The track was ours. We were all really excited. The track was specially manicured for the World Cup (i.e. they smoothed out the bumps). What would “World Cup” ice be like? It was time to practice for the Empire State Games. The race would be tomorrow.
On the way up to the start house we saw the NBC TV trucks being loaded with camera gear. “Wait, the real show is about to start. The guys today were boring. If you want excitement, watch now!”
I’ve been in a bit of a slump with my sliding. My times, even after getting my steels fixed, have been poor. I’ve been skidding. I’ve had bad form. I’ve made progress this year but it feels like it has come in the form of not beating the crap out of myself, not in my times (which had been pretty slow). That’s progress, but it feels at times like a moral victory.
My first run during practice was a typical run I have been having. Hard skidding in the Labyrinth. Pulling myself together, muscling the sled down the track the rest of the way. Not fast. Then I looked up at the scoreboard: 45.383 sec. That was over 1.5 seconds faster than my previous personal best. WTF? I couldn’t see how the timing could be wrong. The times other people were getting were right where they should have been. My run was crappy, how could that be? But I was pumped. Back up to the top for my second run. Pretty much identical. And the time 45.456. Seriously? I was watching the next slider’s time as he was coming down. Ah, crap. The board was malfunctioning. The “5” in the “45” was missing a line and was really a “9”. My times were 49’s. Sigh. Time to get some sleep.
We had been watching the weather forecast for the race all week, and it was going to be brutal Sunday morning. They were calling for -11F Sunday morning. Hard ice. Not what the slump was needing. I got into the car to drive to the track and confirmed a -11F temp. Sigh. But on the drive I made a decision. Felix Loch, world champ slider, had crashed on this track this week. How much worse could I be? I knew what I needed to do. I needed to keep my shoulders back. I needed to be relaxed on my sled. I needed to worry about only what was right in front of me.
We were joined at the race by Frank Masley. Frank is a 3 time US Olympian in Luge. This was the first time he had been on a sled since 1996. His energy was great. Like a kid who rediscovered the funnest thing in life.
We got the to start house and started to prep.
We discovered that the track workers had “spritzed” the track. That was an unexpected bonus. Spritzing the track makes it fast, but it also adds a slightly softer layer of ice that gives better traction on really cold days. Kudo’s to the track workers. It had been a long couple of weeks, and they put in the extra effort for us.
My draw was towards the end of the heat. So I had 8 sliders in front of me. The times were good. Most of the club sliders I am competitive with were not at the race. Everyone else in the race was more experienced. So it was looking like I would get a DFL. Then one of the club sliders struggled and got a 50 second run. I had a chance to not finish last. I came out of the start house and got onto my sled. Focus. Remember to stay relaxed and back on the sled. Trust the sled. “The track is now clear…..” Green light. Off I go.
Down the start ramp cleanly. Into the Labyrinth cleanly. Out of the Labyrinth cleanly. Stay focused on what is in front of you Doug. Into the chicane, couple of corrections (not really needed, time lost). Into the heart. Into the last corner of the Heart right before the finish. Missed a steer. Came out of the corner and crossed the track hard, across the timing eye, hit hard into the far wall came and off my sled. But it was the perfect crash (if you must crash), I hit and came off after the timing eye. It was a clean run. What was my time? By the time I walked (my punishment for crashing) up to the finish dock my time had been erased from the board. No one knew what my time was.
Wait, wait, wait. The start order for the second heat comes out. I’m not sliding first (which means I wasn’t the slowest) I am sliding second. My first heat time: 48.155 sec. My best run in 2 months and my best competition time ever.
Run 2. The last place slider went and struggled with another 50 second run. “Not last place” was mine for the taking!
My second run was virtually identical to the first. Well, except that I managed to stay on my sled after I crossed the finish line when I hit the wall. My time: 48.124. Better than the first. Total time: 1:36:279, my fastest two run race time ever. Neither of those runs were personal bests. But they were welcome given how poorly I had been sliding. They were also within 0.03 seconds of each other which is very consistent. And consistent (when it is not “consistently crashing”) is good. I feel like a new PB before the season is within reach, and I believe that could be in the 46 second range.
One of the other sliders crashed on his second run and so I placed in front of him as well. I ended up 8th out of 10.
Frank, the Olympian, finished 5th out of 10. Each of his runs was faster than the previous. Another day of training and he would have been in medal contention. Add him to the list of National Team members and Olympians I have competed with, and lost too. My resume is growing. I expect we will be seeing more of Frank out at the track.
It was a great end to a really fun week of luge.