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Luge speedsters to test Beijing's slide and joy

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-09 09:23
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The National Sliding Center in Yanqing will stage an International Luge Federation World Cup leg from Nov 19-21. The meet will act as the venue’s final test event for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. DUAN XUEFENG / For China Daily

After impressing the world with a smooth run of bobsled and skeleton test events, the National Sliding Center is bustling again to host the hair-raising sport of luge.

Two weeks after top bobsled and skeleton riders zoomed down the track, the newly built Winter Olympics venue in Beijing's Yanqing district will stage an International Luge Federation World Cup leg from Nov 19-21.

As the first stop of this season's World Cup series, the Yanqing race has attracted over 200 athletes and officials from 27 countries and regions. They will test their skills through the curves and corners on the 1.9-kilometer Olympic track as part of the center's final test event before the Games open on Feb 4.

The meet features the same competition program as the Olympics, comprising four disciplines-men's singles and doubles, women's singles and team relay. The event also serves as an Olympic qualification race, where China's luge riders will make their World Cup debuts.

Athletes and technical officials have already arrived in Yanqing to acclimatize to track conditions, with their movements restricted within a bio-secure bubble as part of Beijing 2022's vigilant COVID-19 protocols.

After hosting time trials in the other two sliding sports to international acclaim last month, organizers have gained experience and confidence to tweak track conditions closer to Olympic standards, according to venue director Lin Jinwen.

"The venue was operating 20 hours a day to thoroughly test its functionality in all aspects, bearing in mind the Beijing Winter Games," Lin said of last month's bobsled and skeleton test events.

"During the training weeks earlier in October, more than 10,000 runs had been done by all the athletes on the track. The venue team has accumulated a lot of experience in high-intensity support."

As the fastest of the three sliding sports at the Winter Olympics, luge involves riders lying supine and feet-first to race at speeds of up to 145 km/h.

Built across the ridges of Xiaohaituo Mountain in Yanqing, 80 kilometers northwest of downtown Beijing, the National Sliding Center features a first-of-its-kind 360-degree loop section, with a maximum gradient of 18 percent among 16 curves.

Dubbed the "Flying Snow Dragon" due its zigzag design, the track features a vertical drop of 120 meters between the start gate and the finish area, and can seat up to 2,000 spectators.

The Yanqing track has already garnered high praise from several of the world's elite riders.

After winning the skeleton time trial at last month's test event, four-time women's individual world champion Tina Hermann of Germany said the track was fun enough for athletes to push themselves to their limits.

Her countrywoman Jaqueline Loelling echoed those sentiments, saying the track and its stunning mountain location help bring out the best in racers.

"This is an incredible and special track," Loelling, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, told Xinhua last month. "The views and the design of the venue motivate you to compete. We spent three very pleasant weeks there."

German bobsleigh head coach Rene Spies described the venue as "architecturally outstanding", adding that it is "smoothly embedded in the landscape".

"The National Sliding Center is a remarkable building with impressive design constructed on natural mountains," said Spies.

"The runs are very challenging. One error can cost you a lot of time in the competition. I'm very satisfied with the training sessions over the past three weeks."

To prepare for all kinds of extreme weather conditions, highlighted by the heavy snowfall in the area on Sunday, the venue operation team and property owner have mobilized 70 staff members, three snow-sweeping trucks and 19 shuttle buses equipped with tire chains to guarantee smooth transportation services for all teams and participants at the World Cup event.

"We've prepared for the worst-case scenarios as best we can," said venue director Lin. "With the final test just around the corner, the Yanqing track will be ready to stage safe and excellent Olympic competitions next year."

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