Nov. 18 — Why would normally sane, well-adjusted St. Johnian's throw themselves onto a sled the size of a large cafeteria tray and plummet head first downhill at speeds up to 80 mph? To send themselves to the Winter Olympics, of course.
St. John residents Alexa Putnam, Chutney Mohler, Gregg Miller and Troy Billington, are skeleton athletes, a head first version of luge, who recently competed in Innsbruck, Germany in their quest to qualify for the Olympics to be held in Torino, Italy in February 2006.
Skeleton sleds are small three-feet long and 16-inches wide), but heavy, at between 70 to 115 lbs. And the slider has to carry the sled to the starting line without help. No small feat for a 120 lb competitor. The competitor maneuvers down the bobsled track with subtle body positioning and by staying as still as possible.
Once they start down the track there is no backing down.
"Skeleton racing is unique in that once they commit to the push start there is no backing out or stopping to get off," said Steve Morgenthaler, the team coach. "The sport requires speed, strength, quick wits and a lot of cool."
Because there is no snow or ice in St. John, Morgenthaler attached a sled with wheels to long cable secured at both ends. The four competitors ran laps pushing the sled, back and forth while they practiced mounting and sliding techniques. A coach or teammate ran along-side holding a rope attached to the sled to help stop the sled and to pull the sliders so they could practice positioning.
To qualify for the Olympics Trials, sliders must compete in five Europa Cup competitions over a period of two years. The first competition of the season was held Nov. 12 in Innsbruck, Austria.
Billington did not compete but the other three did quite well.
The team will train the month of November near Bertesgarten, Germany. Their next event is on Dec. 18 at Altenburg, Germany.
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