Sunday, February 28, 2010

Our 7th Day - 4-man Bobsled at Whistler

Today is our last day at the 2010 Winter Olympics, but what a day. We left Bellingham around 8am and drove up to Whistler, BC to watch the final two heats of the 4-man bobsled. Once we confirmed that Mike and Kate were going to be able to join us for the bobsled, we sold the tickets I had originally bought to take the bus from BCIT up to Whistler and instead bought a driving pass for the Sea to Sky Highway and drove to Whistler.

After waiting in a long line to get through security and into the Whistler Sliding Center, we watched the first sleds take to the course for heat 3. The first sled on track was USA 1, driven by Steve Holcomb. Steve's family was out in force to cheer him on.

He had a successful third run and remained in first place. I noted that the steel columns supporting the roof over the finish line were now covered with pads after the death of the Georgian luger prior to the start of the games. Last year during the World Cup events, and prior to the start of the Olympics, these columns were exposed.

The thirteenth sled down the course was USA 2, driven by Mike Kohn.

By the time Mike finished, we had a ring side seat at the finish hut, directly in front of Mike's parents. I couldn't help but remark to them on the similarity of our last names.

We watched a few more sleds come to a stop in the finish hut. I had a chance to meet a number of these athletes during last year's World Cup event at Whistler, so I already knew how big these guys are. Many of them played football and college. They're all built like linebackers.

Our original plan had been to get to Whistler early enough to climb to the top of the track so that we could watch the first sleds start the third heat and then work our way down toward the bottom during the fourth and final heat. Since that didn't happen, we instead started working our way up the course during the later stages of heat three, stopping as each sled came down the track. Here the Serian sled flies by.

The 4-man bobsled finals drew the largest crowd ever to attend a sliding event, including this guy who was already prepared for Sunday's gold medal hocket match between Team USA and Canada.

I came prepared to cheer on the USA sleds. Here I pose for a rare photo opp at turn 1 just below the start during the lull between heats 3 and 4.

After watching several sleds start the fourth and final heat, we quickly made our way down toward the bottom of the course, again stopping to watch each sled, including one of the Latvian sleds.

The Whistler Sliding Center is the fastest track in the world, with 4-man bobsleds reaching nearly 100mph. Capuring these vehicles is quite an accomplishment, so I am no doubt incrediby happy with some of my photos, such as this one of one of the Canadian sleds.

With just three sleds left, the crowd watched anxiously as the Canada 1 sled rocketed into second place, only to be surpassed by the Germany 1 sled by .01 second.

Then we waited for the USA 1 sled of Steve Holcomb.

Being able to move around the course, you get all sorts of vantage points. Although one could again argue that you can see the bobsled better on TV, since at any given spot along the track, you only see the sled rocket past for a split second. But unlike almost any other event, spectators can get incredibly close to the track. You just can't experience the speed of a bobsled from the safety of your living room.

Once all 21 sleds had completed the fourth run, it was USA 1 sled of Steve Holcomb in first place, continuing to maintain the .4 second margin he had built in his early runs. Germany finished second and Canada took the bronze, just .01 seconds behind Germany.

Genny, Kate, Mike and I had a great time. When the event was over, we joined the huge crowd walking back down below the Wizard chair on Blackcomb and made our way back to Whistler Village. We got into the line for standby tickets for the Medal Ceremony, but in spite of getting very close to the entrance, we did not manage to get inside before Holcomb and the rest of the USA team were awarded their gold medals. Standing outside the medals plaza, we flew our own American flag and sang the Star Spangled Banner.

Then we made our way to the Irish Pub in Whistler Village and hoisted a few before getting back into the car and driving back to Bellingham.

We got home just before 1am, having had an incredible time at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. I considered driving up to Vancouver on Sunday morning and watching the USA/Canada gold medal hockey game in a bar and then trying to get tickets to the closing ceremony. But after four straight days at the games, I was exhausted. So I'll watch the hockey game and closing ceremony at home.

There are even more photos on my Flickr site.

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