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OLYMPIC CONNECTIONS Zero to 140 almost instantly

Like the athletes, operations at Whistlers Sliding Centre kick into high speed starting this monthScott Roberts Special to The Question
October 2, 2008

It all starts with the ice meisters, who are getting ready to cover the bobsleigh, skeleton and luge track with its hand-crafted winter coat of perfectly smooth ice. They are preparing for a winter that will be a blur of high-speed activity, culminating in pre-Olympic World Cup events in February.

Its an exciting time for Craig Lehto, sliding centre director, who says it feels like officials barely got the ribbon off the package last year as they went through the international certification process and held some training sessions for top Canadian sliders.

Now, Lehto says its full speed ahead. Weve got two big priorities for this season. The first, and it kind of bookends the year, are the high performance camps for Canadas World Cup athletes, who are on the track early and they are on the track late.

Lehto says elite-level training will take up a lot of the track time this winter as Canadian sliders make the most of the home-track advantage leading up to 2010.

The other key priority for Lehto is to get the track tested in front of the entire world. We have two training weeks, one for the FIL (International Luge Federation) and the FIBT (bobsleigh and skeleton) and then our sporting events the World Cup competitions in February.

Lehto says these international events will test the track and the facilities operations on every level.

In fact, Lehto says that historically with new sliding tracks, the year leading up to the Olympics is often busier than the Olympic year. Theres lots to do and lots of the things well be doing for the first time will be challenging for us, he says.

From machinery to volunteers, Lehto says the sliding centre has a full basket of operational procedures to focus on in preparation for the 2010 Games.

Hopefully in the Games year, were tweaking those things to make it that much better, Lehto says.

In addition to the high-level training and international competition, development athletes will get their first taste of the Whistler track this winter. Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and the Canadian Luge Association have staged camps to identify young sliders. The addition of a second sliding centre in Canada complements Calgarys facility by doubling the availability of track access for young athletes and offering a more technical track that will challenge athletes piloting ability.

But for Lehto, the success of the sliding centre isnt only judged by the performance of elite athletes and the development of future generations of Canadian sliders. For Lehto its just as important that the community gets engaged, whether its taking a tour of the facility this winter, being a spectator at the World Cups, taking a passenger ride in a bobsleigh, joining the sliding club and learning to slide or volunteering.

For more information about how to get involved at the Whistler Sliding Centre, go to www.whistlerslidingcentre.com