On-ice training for the three American national sliding programs started Monday, though how the rest of the season will ultimately play out amid the coronavirus pandemic remains unclear.
USA Luge hit the ice first on a snowy morning at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, New York. USA Bobsled and Skeleton was scheduled to have its first runs later in the day, though its sessions were canceled because of the snowfall. All three of those national teams are planning — for now — to miss the first half of their respective World Cup seasons that start later this month and rejoin those circuits in January.
Those plans, of course, are pandemic-permitting. But the first day of ice in Lake Placid is always a big deal, and Monday was cause for celebration among athletes from the sliding sports even without any absolute guarantee that they’ll be racing anytime soon.
“It definitely feels different because of all the unknowns,” USA Bobsled head coach Mike Kohn said. “We’re going to find out who the toughest people are, that’s for sure, because we’ve got a season like no other thrown at us here with all the stuff going on in the world.”
USA Luge’s Jonny Gustafson got to take the first run of the season in Lake Placid, doing so as snow — up to a foot was forecast in some parts of the Adirondack region, an unseasonably early storm — piled up along the track. The first session of the season was delayed for an hour because snow made the road leading up to the top of the track impassable.
“I mean, it feels awesome being back on the ice,” Gustafson said. “I love this. It’s so much fun to be back on ice. It’s as simple as that.”
Lolo Jones, one of 13 women in U.S. history to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, is back with USA Bobsled to resume her pursuit of an Olympic medal; her last official international race was in January 2018. World women’s bobsled champion Kaillie Humphries is beginning her second season with the U.S., and USA Luge’s Jayson Terdiman — a doubles partner of Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer — was going through opening day in Lake Placid for the 21st time.
“Despite the ever-changing world that we currently find ourselves in, I am really excited to get back on ice because it’s what I love doing and brings a little normalcy and structure back into my life,” Mazdzer said. “Regardless of what happens this season in terms of travel, competition and restrictions, there is so much that can be accomplished in terms of equipment. Even if we stay on one track all year, we will be able to accomplish a lot in terms of being prepared for the upcoming Beijing Olympics.”
The U.S. was to play host to three major racing events this winter — the bobsled and skeleton world championships in Lake Placid, a luge World Cup race in Lake Placid and another bobsled-skeleton World Cup in Park City. They’ve all been moved to Europe because of the pandemic and travel concerns.
All three national teams are scheduled to be in Lake Placid for the next few weeks, at least. There are plans for some bobsled rookies to slide in Park City in an introductory camp starting later this week.