LAKE PLACID - "Wow! They're flying," exclaimed Neil Rau, of Toronto, Ontario Canada.
He said this after seeing a women's bobsled team whip past him on the combined track at Mount Van Hoevenberg and slide across the finish line on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 18 within mere seconds.
Rau and his family along with others from both near and far turned out that day to see the 2012 FIBT Bob and Skeleton World Championships, which are taking place from Feb. 17 to Feb. 26.
Fans watch as Canada 2 driver Justin Kripps and his brakeman Derek Plug navigate their sled through Mount Van Hoevenberg’s Shady curve during Sunday’s two-man World Championship race.
Photo/Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
"It's way more exciting than I ever thought it would be," said Ameri Sardi, of Glen Rock, N.J. "When you see it on TV you think, Oh, that's interesting, so you watch it for a couple of minutes and then turn the channel, but here I want to see it all."
The multi-day event features world-class athletes from more than 20 nations competing in five disciplines: women's bobsled, men's two-man bobsled, men's four-man bobsled and men's and women's skeleton.
Many in attendance were impressed by how close they could get to the action.
"It's surprising how close we can get," said Amy Spicer, of Lake Placid. "At curve 19 you can stand right next to it."
Spicer's sister, Kristin Walter, of Jamestown, added: "The first time they went by we were looking over the railing and we all jumped, like literally jumped."
The nearly mile-long combined track at Mount Van Hoevenberg features 20 turns while dropping more than 400 feet, with most spectators congregating at the start and finish lines.
"You can hear the sled approaching like rolling thunder, and the speed at which they go by when you're standing there next to the track is impressive," said Steve Atkinson, of Toronto, Ontario Canada.
Rising up to greet the athletes as they whipped along the track at speeds of 70 and 80 mph were the clapping, whooping and ringing of cowbells from the sidelines.
"It's just a happy, positive energy (here)," said Katie Kelley, of Burlington, Vt. "Everybody's psyched."
At the start of the track on Saturday, the athletes tried to psych themselves up by jumping up and down, slapping various body parts of theirs and shifting their weight from one leg to another.
"It's really cool to watch them pump themselves up and pump each other up," Kelley said. "The noises they make are great."
Cheered on by the crowd the athletes would then run down the track, gripping their sled before jumping into it to take the first curve, letting gravity propel them the rest of the way, out of sight.
"They're brave to say the least," said Zack Merry, of Albany.
Allowing the crowd to watch the rest of the athletes' journey down the track were various display screens dotting the venue.
"I'm looking for somebody who drives a sled and gets that perfect run right down the middle." said Bruce Carmton, of Elizabethtown. "That's very difficult to do. If you don't cut it right down the middle, you're going to find real trouble. So far some of them have gotten pretty high on the wall. I got a little bit nervous for one of the sliders."
Bobsled teams that encountered issues on the track were met by a collective "Ooh " from the crowd as many of them watched on from the display screens.
Live v. TV
"It's much cooler in person, as far as the perspective," Merry said.
Jamie Arnold, of Albany, who was with Merry at the 2012 FIBT Bob and Skeleton World Championships on Saturday, said the speeds at which the athletes travel down the track gets lost on TV.
"When you see it happening, it's like, 'Wow!'" she said.
Atkinson said on TV the size and strength of the athletes cannot be fully appreciated.
"Also, on TV you can't tell how long the track is," added his wife, Hanieh Atkinson.
The sentiment was echoed by Bonnie Miller, of Bear, Del.
"On TV you see the start, the finish and a little bit in between," she said. "You don't realize the immensity of the track."
Alvin Haan, of Chadwick, Ill., said he likes seeing the the races live.
"I'm a first timer, and it's a good time," he said. "I'm enjoying myself."
Haan said he and his wife, Kim, plan on seeing more of the event in person.
"I'm looking forward to watching some skeleton," Haan said.
Women's skeleton will take place on Friday, Feb. 24 at 9:45 a.m. with men's skeleton later that day at 5 p.m. On Saturday, Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. there will be the men's four-man bobsled and at 5 p.m. there will be the men's skeleton. The championships will end on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 9:20 a.m. with the men's four-man bobsled.
Contact Margaret Moran at 518-523-4401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org