ST. MORITZ, Jan 18 – At the top of the Olympia Bob Run, skeleton racer Ryan Kuehn (CAN) gulped down his energy drink and listened to a heavy metal song through his headphones. He then fired himself down the track on his sled, hitting a top speed of 128.7km per hour.
When he reached the bottom of the course 1 minute, 11.73 seconds later, his face was bloody. Blotches of red splashed his hair and body suit.
“It’s been a little rough,” he said. “The helmet is hitting me in the face and my nose keeps getting squished, and I bend it with all the G-force.
“It keeps happening. I have to clean up every single time and change everything because my suit gets covered in blood. Luckily the kit is red but 50 per cent of my time goes into cleaning it.”
Welcome to the skeleton competition at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, where the competitors in this high-pressure, high-velocity event takes risks in the charge for gold-medal glory.
In a sport of fine margins, the tiniest technical adjustment can make all the difference between a smooth, successful race and a ride of abject terror. When USA racer Teddy Fitzsimons (above) sanded his sled for three hours on the eve of his second training day, the impact was unexpectedly drastic.
“I didn’t expect the speed I was getting,” he said. “It was too fast. In the beginning I skidded because I panicked. It’s hard for me to fix. At least I didn’t crash.”
In both the men’s and women’s competitions, Germany are expected to score highly.
One of the team’s bright prospects is 17-year-old Lukas David Nydegger, who is aware of the expectations surrounding his performance but is eager to enjoy the event regardless.
“I do feel some pressure, but not too much,” he said. “When I was younger I moved to near an artificial skeleton track. The skeleton people came to my school and told us about it. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this looks cool.’ I just went to some trial event and really liked it.”
The key to performing well in high-profile competitions such as Lausanne 2020, claim the athletes, is to think calmly. When moving at such extreme speeds, there is no room for uncertainty.
“You can’t panic otherwise you’ll skid and your whole run will be ruined,” Fitzsimons said. “Being able to be at one with your sled and push it is the most important part of skeleton.”
Meanwhile, the cuts and bloody noses, when they happen, are considered an acceptable occupational hazard.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure,” Kuehn said. “There’s nothing quite like [the] Youth Winter Olympics. It’s definitely worth every bump along the way.”