Andy Wood's Blog

GB Skeleton Athlete

Ice making.

Well, the GB skeleton team were due to travel to Cesana in Italy today, for our first of two selection races.  According to reports, there is an issue with the refridgeration plant at the Cesana bobsleigh track and there’s no longer any ice on the track!  Major problem.  Even if they were to fix the problem today, it would still probably take a few days for the track workers to build the ice back up, layer by layer, along the full length of the 1,435 m track.  At present we’re grounded in the UK, awaiting a decision on when and where to travel.

As I’m sat waiting for information, I might as well tell you a bit about how the bobsleigh tracks work!

track pipingBobsleigh tracks are generally up and running from the beginning of October until March.  For ice to be maintained on the tracks during milder weather spells, the concrete tracks are built with thousands of metres of piping running through the structure, in order to pump through chilled ammonia. You can see the piping running through the cross section of the track in the picture.

The ammonia refridgerates the track, then it’s down to the track workers to walk down the track with a hose and spray water onto the concrete, allowing a thin layer of ice to form.  This has to be done several times each day, over the course of several days for the ice to build up.

Once the whole track has a good thickness of ice on it, the workers can then start to shave the ice.  A huge razor on the end of a broomstick sounds pretty basic, but the track workers are highly skilled in shaping the ice to the desired profile.

Why shave the ice?  Bobsleigh tracks, especially the corners, are not designed to send us from one corner to the next without us having to do anything.  That would make the sport very boring and require no skill!  In fact, most corners are shaped so that unless we control the sled through the corner by steering, we’ll be aimed slightly (sometimes agressively!) towards one of the walls on either side of the track, once we exit the corner.  Athletes have to learn what steers are required to make sure they come out of each corner going in a straight line towards the next one.

So once we know what steers to do on a certain track, it’ll be the same the next time we go there, right?  Nope.  This is where the ice shaving comes into play.  The track staff can manipulate the characteristics of each corner by adding a bit more ice here, or taking it out there.  This changes the natural line through the corner and means we have to adapt our steering to get a clean exit again.  Only having 6 runs down a track before most competitions means that we have only 6 chances to perfect our lines through up to 19 corners!   Fast learning and a good memory are required.

October 5, 2009 - Posted by | Blog Archive

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