By TIM REYNOLDS – AP Sportswriter
BEIJING (AP) — Olympic bobsleigh champion Francesco Friedrich could skip Friday’s final day of practice for this weekend’s four-man event, for two reasons.
One, he may need a break.
Second, he thinks the ice needs a break too.
Friedrich complained about the quality of the ice at Yanqing Sliding Center after completing another day of four-man practice on Thursday after posting one of the slowest times in the field – ranking 25th out of 28 sleds in of his last race, a massive drop from his usual place near or at the top of the leaderboard in most practice and race sessions.
“The track is totally worn out,” Friedrich told German reporters.
The three-time Olympic champion – winner of the two- and four-man gold medals in Pyeongchang in 2018, plus a two gold here in Beijing – is still the strong favorite to win the four-man event which starts on Saturday and ends on Sunday, the last day of the Games.
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But he sounded an alarm that is not uncommon towards the end of the Olympics, as the ice tends to get beaten up. Not even counting the unofficial training sessions that began a few days before the February 4 opening ceremony, the world’s top bobsledders, skeleton athletes and luge athletes made more than 2,400 trips to the Yanqing track. over the past two weeks.
It’s a lot. And four-man sleds are the biggest, heaviest, and most ice-damaging of all the others. The four-man quad is traditionally the last sliding event of the Olympics, programmed this way in part so that the sleeker and lighter sleds get the best possible ice for their competitions.
“There’s no more substance there,” Friedrich said. “You’re still getting pulled into grooves, which has nothing to do with driving.”
Ice, especially in practice and four-man competitions, often deteriorates the more it is used. The rule of thumb is: the earlier you slide in a session, the better your time will be. Track workers from around the world have been brought in for the Olympics to make sure the ice is as good as possible, and they have teams working on the ice after every practice and race session, shaping and spraying the top of the surface.
The top-ranked sleds start first in most competitions, and Friedrich will have one of those coveted early start slots when the four-man event kicks off on Saturday. But on Thursday, by luck – or bad luck, in this case – of the draw, he was starting after more than 20 sleds had already been on the ice, and that meant he wasn’t getting as pristine a surface as he usually like. .
“If you drive that far (in starting order) it’s not fun,” Friedrich said.
Friedrich also revealed that he changed the setup of his luge and that whatever he changed for Thursday’s sessions – bobsledders rarely reveal details when talking about luge setup – didn’t work out as well. he wanted to, which also hurt his time.
Canada’s Justin Kripps was the second down the hill in both practice sessions, meaning he got the best ice surface possible. He was fastest in both runs.
Unsurprisingly, his opinion of the quality of the ice cream differed a bit from Friedrich’s assessment.
“We had fresh ice early in the day and had a pretty clean race,” Kripps said. “It was good.”
A number of the top female sliders skipped the final day of practice, most citing a need for rest before the start of their final Beijing Games competition on Friday. Among those not present: Olympic monobob champion and three-time women’s two-man bobsleigh medalist Kaillie Humphries of the United States, who declared a few days ago that she would withdraw from the last session of coaching.
“Some things are easier with four, some things sometimes need to be more precise, so it’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” said US four-man driver Frank DelDuca. “There’s a lot more stability. You can put the sled where you want it, but if you make a mistake sometimes the mistake is a little bit bigger. But that’s cool. I’m excited for the race.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth contributed to this report.
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