When opportunities opened for B.C. athletes to break into the world of bobsleigh and skeleton, about 50 aspiring sliders heard the call and came running. And when luge officials held a recruitment camp in Whistler on Sept. 26, 12 kids came from as far away as Burnaby to throw themselves onto wheeled sleds.
Even before the 2010 Olympics will bring the world's brightest bobsleigh, luge and skeleton stars to Whistler, interest in sliding sports is strong.
Meanwhile, the top Canadians are returning to the track where they'll go for Olympic gold in five months' time. The national luge team hit the ice Wednesday (Sept. 30), and the skeleton team is also training here in Whistler.
"I think this is probably the earliest the Canadian team has ever trained," said Nicole Simon, the Whistler-based program coordinator for the Canadian Luge Association and representative for the B.C. luge and bobsleigh-skeleton associations.
Seeking to deepen the Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton programs, the burgeoning B.C. Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association (BCBSA) partnered with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific to host free recruitment camps around the province in September.
Held in locations such as Whistler, Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna, Victoria and Nanaimo, the sessions drew athletes interested in bobsleigh and skeleton to show their potential suitability for the sliding sports in sprinting and jumping tests.
Simon said organizers were pleased with the "fairly good" turnout of about 50 athletes, especially since some of the athletes were based far away from the Whistler Sliding Centre.
"They did well. We were impressed with what they had to show us," Simon said.
The Whistler camp, competing against sunshine and blue skies on Sept. 24, didn't have a huge turnout. But all the athletes who showed up for the sessions will be invited to a high-performance camp in Whistler in the end of October or beginning of November, Simon said, where they'll be tested in the weight room for more fundamentals.
Their results will be sent to Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, opening chances for them to get picked up for the program. New recruits could get to use sleds at the Whistler Sliding Centre when they start in November, Simon said.
The Whistler track is also expected to host some skeleton and bobsleigh driving schools this season, Simon said, with dates to be posted on the BCBSA website at slidebc.ca.
On the luge side of the sliding sports equation, the 12 kids who came to the most recent Whistler recruitment camp will be invited to join the youth program at the Whistler Sliding Centre, along with any young athletes who attended camps this year and last.
Some of the speedy sliders who participated in the program last year, a successful group that put on an impressive performance at competitions such as the Youth Canadian Championships, have been hitting the gym every second Tuesday over the summer.
The athletes have been getting a head start on their luge careers by training with Diana Rochon of the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific gym in Whistler, and Jason Fridrick of the Meadow Park Sports Centre has been teaching them the basics of power lifting.
"I wish I had something like that when I first got started in the sport," Simon said.
Luge is a power event, with an all-important start that requires full-body efforts by the athletes, so learning the ways of the weight room early can be a huge benefit for young sliders, she said.
Plus, Simon added, "They had so much fun doing it."
The youth program at the Whistler Sliding Centre can take about 40 athletes, and Simon hopes to have about 15 to 20 participants this year. With sessions four times per week, the participants usually slide at two or three of those each week.
Right now, Simon said, it looks like the young athletes will be able to slide until the end of January, when the Olympics will really be on the sliding centre's doorstep.
"They'll have pretty much the same amount of track time they had last year," Simon said.
Further on-ice luge recruitment camps for 13- to 18-year-old athletes are scheduled for the mornings of Oct. 17, 18 and 25 and Nov. 22, with registration happening online at www.luge.ca.
"Last year (similar sessions) all sold out, I expect the same," Simon said, hoping to get about 12 to 15 kids per camp.
In the background, momentum is also building to keep the organizations guiding the sports in this province steady as a long-term legacy beyond the Olympics. Last Friday (Oct. 2), the BCBSA held its AGM to elect a volunteer board and separate from Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, and the Track Club at the Whistler Sliding Centre will take the same steps at their AGM on Oct. 19 to become independent from VANOC.