Health woes: Swiss driver and Australian team hurt, Latvian ailing as bobsled training opens

By Tim Reynolds, AP
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bobsledders fighting injuries and illnesses

WHISTLER, British Columbia — The status of a Swiss medal-contending driver and Australian pusher for this weekend’s Olympic two-man bobsled competition is in some doubt, after both had training derailed by crashes at the super-speedy Whistler Sliding Center track.

Beat Hefti, this season’s World Cup overall champion in two-man bobsledding, missed training Thursday because of a headache after crashing on his first practice run the previous night. Hefti was checked out at a hospital for bruises on his head and body, as well as cuts on one of his legs, Switzerland team officials said in a release.

“His coach said he’s going to train (Friday),” said International Federation of Bobsled and Tobogganing spokesman Don Krone.

At least two other bobsleds crashed after training resumed Thursday morning, with both a Japanese entry and a sled from the Czech Republic turned on their sides in the area of Curve 13 — the so-called “50-50 curve” which earned its moniker after about half the sleds in a training session last year couldn’t handle that section of the Whistler track.

Neither of Thursday’s early crashes were believed to be serious.

“It’s not untypical,” said Krone, who added that in 2002, on the first night of training at the Park City track for the Salt Lake City Games, there were 17 bobsled wrecks.

In all, eight sleds crashed in Wednesday’s session, although one righted itself and came across the finish on its runners.

And once again, speed and safety are in the forefront at the Olympic track.

Bobsledders and skeleton athletes use the same track where Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili suffered fatal injuries when he lost control of his luge sled and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 90 mph.

Other than the speed, there’s little comparison between the handling of a luge and a bobsled, but Kumaritashvili remains on the mind of every slider in Whistler.

“We’re all family,” USA-1 bobsled pilot Steven Holcomb said. “It’s unnecessary. It’s kind of a fluke thing. I know they were saying he’s an inexperienced pilot or whatever, but still, it shouldn’t have happened. It’s unfortunate, at the same time, we have to go out there and do our job. We know he was giving it everything he had, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

On Wednesday night, Australian push athlete Duncan Harvey was briefly hospitalized after another crash, and doctors eventually decided to hold him out of Thursday’s training for precautionary reasons. Harvey was taken to a medical center by ambulance after complaining of back pain.

“All clear,” said Australian Olympic spokesman Mike Tancred, who later added that Harvey was advised to rest for a day.

Hefti also qualified for the Olympics in four-man but gave up that spot so teammate Daniel Schmid — who was among others who crashed Wednesday night — could drive in both events. Hefti planned to join Ivo Rueegg’s four-man sled as a push athlete.

Now, that’s all contingent on him getting medical clearance.

Every sled needs to complete two runs from the top of the course to qualify for the competition, which begins Saturday — meaning Hefti will need to be in training Friday just to make the two-man field.

“There were not very many teams that were … holding back at the start,” Krone said. “They were attacking the track.”

Harvey and driver Chris Spring topped over around Curve 5 and actually came out of the sled, ending up sliding along the chassis all the way to the bottom of the course, Tancred said.

Spring had some bleeding inside his mouth but was otherwise fine.

There’s one two-man bobsled that’s already out of the Olympics, although not for injury-related reasons.

Latvian officials said Thursday that the sled driven by Janis Minins will not race in competition Saturday and Sunday, after he needed emergency surgery late last week to remove his appendix.

Minins will be reevaluated in “four or five days,” Latvian press secretary Marita Vilcina said, adding there’s still a chance Minins could compete in four-man competition next week.

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