FRANKFURT, Germany — Three members of the Canadian bobsledding team were hospitalized Thursday after their four-man sled slammed into the roof of the track during a training run for this weekend’s World Cup stop in Germany.
The crash came when pilot Chris Spring lost control of his sled on the 16th turn of the 17-turn course at Altenberg, one of the world’s toughest tracks. Spring sustained a “major puncture wound” to his buttocks and upper leg area from debris created by the crash, said Don Wilson, the CEO of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, adding that the sliders were resting comfortably and that the injuries are not life-threatening.
Pieces of that debris, mostly wood, came through the bottom of the sled and caused the bulk of the injuries.
“I think these athletes are extremely lucky,” said Nathan Cicoria, the high-performance director for the Canadian team.
Weather was not believed to have been a factor in the crash, although training runs were canceled earlier in the day by heavy snow.
“I’ve never seen a sled so destroyed,” Canadian coach Tom de la Hunty told The Associated Press by telephone.
Spring was airlifted to the University Clinic in Dresden, and Canadian officials said he also had rib and lung injuries. Push athletes Bill Thomas and Graeme Rinholm were sent to nearby hospitals, where they were to stay at least overnight because of bruising and trauma. A fourth member of the team, Tim Randall, was treated at the track and not seriously injured.
Photos taken at the crash site showed pieces of wood had fallen from the track and onto the snowy surface below, more proof of how much force was generated by Spring’s sled.
“This an extremely unfortunate incident that we are taking very seriously,” Wilson said.
De la Hunty said the “disastrous” crash took place in turn 16, where the sled hit the roof over the course and skidded down the wall, but never left the track.
“The entire front part of the sled came off and dragged through the sled with the athletes inside,” de la Hunty said.
The rest of the training schedule for the day was scrubbed after the crash.
“I didn’t actually see the crash,” U.S. bobsled pilot Steven Holcomb, the 2009 world champion and 2010 Olympic gold medalist, said in a message to the AP. “I was inside preparing for my run. I only saw the aftermath.”
The fourth World Cup stop of the season for bobsled and skeleton is scheduled to begin Friday in Altenberg, with men’s skeleton and women’s bobsledding competitions. Saturday’s schedule includes women’s skeleton and 2-man bobsledding, followed by the 4-man bobsledding event Sunday.
The 27-year-old Spring was born in Australia and represented that country in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics before switching to the Canadian team after that season. He applied for Canadian citizenship even before those Olympics formally ended, saying he was frustrated over the direction of the Australian program and what he described as a lack of funding. Australia pulled out of the four-man event in Vancouver after a series of crashes depleted the team’s roster and left two athletes with concussions.
It was at those Vancouver Games when safety again moved to the forefront of conversations about sliding sports. Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed in a training run and died hours before the opening ceremony, his head smashing into a metal beam after his body sailed over the track wall at nearly 90 mph when he lost control near the finish line.
Heavy snow fell in Altenberg for much of Thursday, and German officials released a statement in the morning saying the weather conditions forced the cancellation of that day’s scheduled skeleton training runs. In the same statement, they said a decision would be made later in the day about whether to allow bobsleds to take their practice runs.
By early afternoon, women’s bobsled training resumed with 12 sleds taking part.
“I’m sure the weather won’t impact us that much while we are here, or at least it won’t impact me,” Spring wrote on his blog Sunday. “Another new track and a tough one at that so I will be switched on for the best part of the week we are here and no doubt stressing out about all the little things us pilots like to worry about.”
Altenberg is notorious for being one of the most difficult tracks in the world to drive, and athletes for years have clamored for more practice time at the facility.
“The most technically difficult track on the circuit,” U.S. bobsled coach Brian Shimer once said of Altenberg, in former East Germany.
Source: The Associated Press