Skeleton sliders contend with 'interesting' challenge at Olympic track
By Yoo Jee-ho
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, March 17 (Yonhap) -- Number nine is often associated with happiness -- as in, being on cloud nine -- but that numeral gave skeleton athletes plenty of headaches here on Friday.
By most accounts, Alpensia Sliding Centre in PyeongChang, which is hosting the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Cup this week, isn't that difficult of a track.
But as athletes will tell you, the ninth of the track's 16 curves is the one quirky feature that can make or break a race.
And it's something those sliders will have to contend with in less than a year's time, when the same track will host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Yun Sung-bin of South Korea competes in the men's skeleton at the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation World Cup at Alpensia Sliding Centre in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, on March 17, 2017. (Yonhap)
Curve 9 gave many athletes trouble, because, as South Korean Yun Sung-bin put it, "It's unlike any other curve anywhere in the world."
Sliders would come down at over 120 kph until they hit Curve 9, a little zigzag stretch that requires deft maneuvering to avoid hitting the wall. One athlete after another lost steam when they failed to get past the tricky corner cleanly.
And that could make a huge difference in a sport where medal color can be determined by one hundredth of a second -- as was the case with Yun, who finished 0.01 second back of champion Martins Dukurs Friday.
Dukurs said the track overall is "interesting, maybe not dangerous," but added, "On this track, everything is up to Curve 9."
"If you do well at the corner, then you don't lose time," the Latvian said. "It's hard to drive (through that stretch). But you need such curves to make competitions more interesting."
The women's skeleton race preceded the men's competition Friday, and female athletes also found Curve 9 particularly challenging.
Jacqueline Loelling, the champion, said the stretch from Curves 9 to 12 was "the most difficult point" of the track.
"I think I have to work on it to get a perfect line, and I didn't get it today," she said. "But it's fun. You can't say it's like another track in the world. I like it."
Martins Dukurs of Latvia starts his skeleton race at the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation World Cup at Alpensia Sliding Centre in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, on March 17, 2017. (Yonhap)