Sunday, November 18, 2012

Women's Skeleton at Utah Olympic Park

I went over to the Utah Olympic Park on Friday to catch some of the World Cup events.  I was planning on going back on Saturday, but our rainy weather and some other plans prevented it.  Today I'll blog the women's Skeleton and tomorrow I will write up the men's 2-Man bobsled.

The skeleton sleds don't look all that fancy, although I am certain there is a lot of technology that goes into them.  The seem like a sled that would be owned by any kid from well-to-do parents.  That is, until you try and pick one up. A woman's sled can weigh up to 35 kg (about 77 pounds). That's no toy toboggan. The combined weight of the competitor and her sled can't exceed 92 kg.
I took pictures walking the course from start to finish and back, which means you don't get to see a lot of any one person.  Here is the progression of a run, using lots of the different athletes as my subjects.

Like most of the winter track sports, you may not win with a fast start, but you will certainly lose with a slow one.  The ladies are all serious sprinters. They push off a wooden block, but after that it's all track spikes digging into the ice.
The challenge is sprinting and managing to bring that 70 pound sled along with you. This is Kimber Gabryszak, one of Park City's locals. It was a very international competition.  Of the 23 competitors, only two were from the US.
Try this some time.  Start from scratch and run at a full sprint for about 30 yards, but keep one hand about 4 inches off the ground.  For extra credit, try it on ice.
Serious, serious power!
Then, without dropping any speed, dive onto your sled.
Quickly assume the perfect position.  They hit speeds close to 70 mph.

Trying to stay with them long enough to get a blurred background requires more practice than I have had.  It's easy to get everything sharp, or everything blurred, but mix and match is tough.
If you remember Luge, also an Olympic sport, then you might notice the main difference.  Luge is for people who are too frightened to go down head first.  I think if you had to order sanity, it would go bobsled (you get a vehicle), luge (at least you are feet first) and finally skeleton (face first, 4 inches off the track, at high speed).

This is Austrian Melissa Hoar. Notice the hands at the sides and the head down for aerodynamics. 
I wish I had spent more time trying a few more of these.  I was standing in a bad place and I hurried the shot, but I like the blur as she flew by.  At least I wasn't having to pan with her.  Here the trick is just to take the shot at the right time. She's on the right side of the picture because I was probably 1/20th of a second late.
Once you cross the line, you head uphill and drag to slow your speed.
And you finally get to look up at the clock and see how you did, although most of these competitors can probably tell within a few hundredths of a second without looking.
The event was won by American Katie Uhlaender with a totally dominating margin of victory, .01 seconds. Go USA!

If you live in Park City or Salt Lake and haven't seen one of these competitions, you're really missing out.  These are Olympic caliber competitors. You can watch them from a few feet away, and the event costs absolutely nothing!  There's another big skeleton event at the Olympic Park on December 7th. Mark your calendars.

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