Note the Minety top!
Minety winger, Dave Cooke has just returned from a self funded trip to a 3 day Skeleton Bobsleigh course at the Whistler Olympic Park just north of Vancouver in Canada.
The Minety rugby club winger had his only previous taste of the skeleton at the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Racing Centre at Bath University in 2017 but was determined to try out the sport for real on the ice.
Having sought advice from, among others, ex Olympic Gold winner Amy Williams, Dave booked his place on the course run by ex Olympian John Farrow at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
“I joined a group of 11 made up of Canadians, Americans, an Australian and an Israeli, some of whom were looking towards qualification to their Olympic squads for the next Winter Olympics.”
Day 1 started with a track walk. “It’s the fastest track in the world so it’s essential you get to know the way that it flows down the mountain. Farrow showed us the lines we should take, how we should be positioned on the board and how to assess ice conditions, whether the ice is fast or slow. Once we got our helmets fitted and the skeleton sled sorted we moved out to Corner 11 near the bottom of the course. From there to the finish line was quite straightforward but I was amazed by the speed. I actually got close to 110kph on my final run through the speed trap.”
For day 2 the group, most of whom had already been on courses at Calgary and other sliding centres, moved up to turn 7. They focussed on steering the sled and dealing with the 3 or 4g pressures that either force the head down into the ice or pull it up and make the whole sled unstable. “We learnt about the types of steering from the subtle movement of the head to using the toes to slow the sled on one side. After two fairly frightening slides I started to feel as if I was working with the sled and I could appreciate the need to get entries and exits absolutely perfect to carry speed.”
The third day started with more instruction, this time dealing with the timing of steers and the management of the “g” forces on the big, fast corners. “If you lose control on one corner then everything else becomes an accident waiting to happen. The ice is hard and any mistake really hurts.”
The course for David should have ended there but John Farrow, his coach, was so impressed with the speed that he’d learnt the basic techniques that he invited Dave back for an extra day. “John offered some of us the chance to try a run from right up at turn 3, not far from the start line. I decided to try a couple of runs from turn 6 to get myself ready and then went for it.
“The difference on the big run was immediate. While the steering was similar to lower in the course, the speed was immense and there were times when I felt just like a passenger on the sled rather than being in any sort of control. The corners come up very quickly and you have to manage the fast ones carefully to mitigate against the “g” forces. Failure to manage those forces can render sliders unconscious and you just don’t want to think about that.”
By the time he hit the speed trap lower in the course he was travelling at over 121kph with his chin just an inch above the ice. “It was amazing, just amazing. I’ve gained huge respect for the athletes who compete at the highest levels of the sport who have to learn courses so quickly and then race at such huge speeds.”
And what of the future? Dave is the proud owner of his Skeleton Pilot School certificate and has renewed determination to get himself some more track time, probably in Europe, and see where the future takes him in the sport.
For the time being it’s back to work in Chippenham and back in training with Minety rugby club.