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ON THE SCENE: World Cup shows bobsledding still big in Lake Placid

December 22, 2016
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Bobsledding is to Lake Placid as horse racing is to Louisville and Saratoga, a town and sport that made each famous. While the crowds are smaller than in my youth when a high percentage of the U.S. athletes were local and a flurry of other options didn't draw away spectators, what remains is a love of the sport and a warm embrace of the athletes that's palpable.

As was true of the 1932/1980 run, Lake Placid's newest track - finished in early 2000 prior to the Winter Goodwill Games- remains one of the toughest in the world, and one of the fairest. Under the leadership of veteran bobsledder Tony Carlino, all who train or race are treated the same. The Americans have a home track advantage from training here the most. Other than that, come events like the BMW IBSF World Cup on Dec. 16-17, everyone has equal access and the same privileges.

That fairness and warm embrace by the fans is especially apparent at the start, where ringing cowbells and shouts of encouragement are nearly equally deafening, whether the teams are from France, Austria, Russia or Brazil. Their cheer is close to the roar given to the U.S. team and Canadians, many who view Lake Placid if not their home track, the closest thing to it. Indeed, quite a few flag-waving Canadians came down to scream for their team. Even so, they screamed nearly as loudly for everyone else.

Article Photos

U.S. bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor and her husband Nic pose Saturday, Dec. 17 at the World Cup.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"My boyfriend Ben is on the Canadian team," exclaimed Christina Chiesa of Saskatchewan while brandishing a large red maple leaf flag. "They are doing great! I love Lake Placid! We come here often."

"I am very proud of my son!" said Kera Coakwell, mother of Ben. "It's a crazy sport and fun to watch."

"I've been here before," said John Thompson. "It's quite the event. We love coming every year. I love the reaction of the viewers. Everyone does the same thing after a sled glides by; their mouth turns into a big grin! We cheer for everybody, but we are rooting for the USA."

"It's exhilarating to watch them fly by you," said Adie Thompson. "It always makes you smile. Walking up to the top of the hill is exhilarating, too!"

The good news this year was snow and cold weather. Yes, some would have wished for slightly warmer or less windy conditions, but considering the winter we had last year, no one was complaining. Rather, there were sighs of relief.

"It's cold, but you don't freeze if you have the right clothing," said Linda Neu. "I just love being outside and being on the mountain. It's exhilarating seeing these Olympic sports live, way better than on TV. They are so up close and personal. It's unbelievable."

Key to the success of the World Cup is the many people who volunteer.

"I volunteered so I can see the bobsled and skeleton races, and so I can get a pass to Whiteface in the process," said Charles Basin from Plattsburgh. "Friday was a little cold, in the negatives, but I've been having fun. My job is to float around the track answering questions and assisting those who are lost."

"My job is sweeping the start track between sleds," said volunteer Brian Drury. "All the snow coming down today keeps us busy. It's fun. I've done this before. We work with North Country Ministries. We hand out cowbells and do whatever we can on the track."

"This sport is awesome!" said fellow sweeper Ryan Grunlock.

Team USA has recruited many track athletes to the sport, athletes who have the strength and explosive speed so crucial to the start.

"I love the mechanics, the speed, the strength of bobsledding, skills that transfer over very well from track," said women's bobsledder Cherrelle Garrett. "Bobsledding is a good back-up sport for the track athlete who doesn't qualify for track. It provides them the opportunity to come out and try something different. Bobsledding is very humbling. It builds character. After three or four months of bobsledding, I go back home feeling I can do anything. You can sacrifice fingers, toes and your sanity. It's definitely a thrill."

"I love the intensity, the adrenaline rush you get whenever you go down the track, and that it's something new and different," said Briauna Jones.

"It's a breath of fresh air," said the Kehru Jones. "I've run track for 12 years. I'm a rookie. This is my first year bobsledding, and I made the international team. It is so exciting to be here. I love getting to meet all these athletes from different nations and getting to travel."

"I love the way the people cheer for everybody," said Garrett. "It makes me feel as if this is my hometown. I get fired up! Yesterday this crowd got me so excited. It was wonderful."

An exciting aspect of the four-man race on Saturday was the sled piloted by Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor, one of the few women who has taken up on this challenge. The difficulty is not ability but that she is so much lighter than her teammates; they have to add weight to the sled to get it closer to the heft of the all-male sleds. While placing 14th, her time was within striking distance of the winner, so tight was Saturday's race.

"The most obvious difference between driving a two-man versus a four-man is the weight difference," said Taylor. "The weight for woman's two-man is 325, and for a four-man, it's 630, so almost twice the weight. That makes a huge difference in how you drive a sled. The four-man is like driving a truck, and the two-man is like driving a seven series BMW or a Z4. It's a little bit of a change; it's just a matter of adapting to that weight."

"We learn something new about each other every day. It's so awesome to be racing with my husband," said Taylor after piloting a four-man sled with her husband as her brakeman. "I've raced with him before, but this is the first time in a World Cup. This provides us a video we'll be able to show our kids one day, and our nieces and nephews are watching. It's a cool thing. Hopefully, it will inspire others to know they can do anything no matter their gender."

"It's awesome," said her husband Nic Taylor. "I get to watch Elana race two-man, and I think, 'Wow, those are some smoking fast runs.' So now I get to do four-person with her and experience the feeling. She's a really good driver. We were within a tenth of a second of the leader after the first run. That's a huge testament to how fast she is. It's crazy! It's a real cool deal to race with her!"

"My guys are pushing some weight because since I'm so much lighter, we have to load the sled down to get it closer to the weight of the other sleds," Elana said. "I can't bulk up because I have to stay light for the women's sled. I am so proud of my team. I love having my husband push for me."

"She's 60 pounds lighter than the average guy, yet she competitive with them in the push," said Nic. "That's unreal to think about."

"Did you say anything at the start?

"Let's have fun."



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