Lev­els charge

Cana­dian says Ger­mans us­ing il­le­gal mag­nets


WHISTLER, B.C. — Cana­dian Jeff Pain says his Ger­man skele­ton com­peti­tors are il­le­gally at­tach­ing mag­nets to their sleds to pro­pel them faster down the course.

“I don’t know 100 per cent how they use it. My be­lief is they’re cre­at­ing a mag­netic field that pro­vides damp­en­ing (or) shock­ab­sorb­ing,” the 39-year-old Cal­gary slider, a two-time Olympian, told a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day.

“I know it’s around the run­ner post on their sleds,” he said, re­fer­ring to the area near or on the metal run­ners that con­tact the ice.

“If you read the rules it says no elec­tro­mag­netic fields. That’s how I would de­fine (the mag­nets),” he added. “Ob­vi­ously the FIBT dis­agrees with me or they haven’t found it, (but) it would be nice to have that in­ves­ti­gated a lit­tle bit.”

The FIBT — short for Fed­er­a­tion In­ter­na­tionale de Bob­sleigh et de To­bog­gan­ing — is the sport’s gov­ern­ing body and will in­spect and sign off on sleds dur­ing the Olympics.

Don Krone, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the FIBT, said none of the Ger­man sleds have flunked race spec­i­fi­ca­tions this World Cup sea­son.

“I’ve been at ev­ery World Cup race in the last 13 sea­sons and I’ve never heard any men­tion of mag­nets. That doesn’t mean it’s not an is­sue,” said Krone. “ We will cer­tainly look into the mat­ter.”

Krone de­clined to com­ment on whether mag­nets are specif­i­cally banned on the sleds, say­ing he’ll need to talk to FIBT ma­te­ri­als ex­perts for clar­i­fi­ca­tion, all of whom were in tran­sit Wed­nes­day en route to the Whistler event.

A Ger­man team of­fi­cial wasn’t im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment Wed­nes­day. But ear­lier this sea­son, team coach Raimund Bethge de­nied al­le­ga­tions of cheat­ing.

Bethge also tongue-in-cheek­ily sug­gested that given Mont­gomery won the World Cup event in Ce­sana, per­haps it’s his sled that should be tested.

The skele­ton races run Feb. 1819 at the Whistler Slid­ing Cen­tre.

Ques­tions over the Ger­man sleds have been bub­bling be­low the sur­face on the skele­ton World Cup cir­cuit this sea­son.

They broke to the sur­face in De­cem­ber at Win­ter­berg, Ger­many, when Cana­dian slider Jon Mont­gomery pub­licly won­dered how the Ger­man stars could be fa­tally slow in the push off — jump­ing into their sleds — yet some­how find the speed down the course to fin­ish on the podium.

“I raised the ques­tion of their tech­nol­ogy,” said the 30-year-old from Rus­sell, Man., when asked Wed­nes­day to re­visit the com­ments.

“I sus­pect that they (the sleds) are com­pletely le­gal, just su­pe­rior in tech­nol­ogy,” said Mont­gomery.

The dif­fer­ence, he said comes when the Ger­mans fly off the op­ti­mum drive line down the course. Their sleds dig in, fight the ice and the G-forces to get back on track, yet are whis­perquiet.

“ You can see them break out and skid and you don’t hear them, whereas when we break out and skid you can hear us de­stroy­ing the ice,” he said.

The Ger­mans are fa­mous for spar­ing no ex­pense to give ath­letes a com­pet­i­tive edge. In Berlin, the fa­mous FES In­sti­tute tests, mea­sures and builds pro­to­types to har­mo­nize ath­letes and equip­ment at elite-level sports. It was be­lieved to be the driv­ing force be­hind the pow­er­ful East Ger­man sports ma­chine.

“I think we’re be­hind the game a bit and the Ger­mans do have su­pe­rior sled tech­nol­ogy and run­ner tech­nol­ogy to ours, but it’s only a lit­tle bit and it doesn’t mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween winning and los­ing,” said Mont­gomery.

Tech wars have be­come a key com­po­nent in skele­ton, where ath­letes slide stom­ach-down on fi­bre­glass and metal sleds on chutes of ice at well over 130 km/h, and where win­ners and losers can be sep­a­rated by 12hun­dredths of a sec­ond -— the blink of an eye.

This sea­son, Ger­man slider Frank Rom­mel is ranked sec­ond and team­mate San­dro Stielicke third in the over­all FIBT rank­ings, which de­ter­mine seed­ing at the Olympics.

Martins Dukurs of Latvia is first. Mont­gomery is the top Cana­dian in fifth.

Pain won sil­ver at Turin in 2006, af­ter fin­ish­ing sixth in Salt Lake in 2002. He will re­tire af­ter Van­cou­ver.

Ger­many has never won an Olympic medal in skele­ton, which as a sport, is a cen­tury old but has had lim­ited ex­po­sure at the Olympics. It was held on the Cresta Run at St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948, but then dis­ap­peared un­til it re­turned to the Games for good in 2002.

Mel­lisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., won the World Cup women’s event this year and is ranked No.1 go­ing into the Games.

The Eckville, Alta., slider said she has not heard of any skul­dug­gery, but ad­mit­ted she re­ally isn’t looking for it.

“ The way I do my sport is not the same as how other peo­ple ap­proach it,” said the 29-year-old, who leaves her sled to her sled builder.

“ The way that I slide, I use my feel­ing and I have to be­lieve in my­self and not con­cern my­self with any­body else — whether that’s their equip­ment, their start times, their down times. And that’s how I’ve been suc­cess­ful to date.”

The Cana­dian Press

Skele­ton ath­letes, left to right, Jeff Pain of Cal­gary, Alta., Mel­lisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., and Jon Mont­gomery of Rus­sell, Man., stop for a photo in front of the Olympic rings, Wed­nes­day, at the 2010 Van­cou­ver Olympic Win­ter Games in Whistler, B.C.

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