Sliding competition begins Nov. 15 at Canada Olympic Park

skeleton 4International sledders and sliders have converged on Canada Olympic Park this week for the North America's Cup competition.

Over 100 athletes representing more than 10 nations will compete in skeleton and both two and four-man bobsleigh events over three days beginning Nov. 15. For many of these athletes, the competition has a direct bearing on their chances of qualifying for Olympic competition.

For some, this event is their first taste of international competition and a crucial opportunity to learn the track and compete on real ice.

"It's a good chance to race against other nations and to develop yourself as an athlete," says Alexis Morris, Canadian skeleton athlete and fore-runner for the competition. "You don't get a chance to slide in many of these nations."

skeletonA skeleton athlete concentrates during a practice run at Canada Olympic Park.

Photo by Dan Mackenzie

Morris says that the stakes of this event are high for smaller countries.

"Canada uses this competition for development," he says. "But small nations use it as an opportunity."

Veteran track official Dave Graham says that for many countries, this competition provides that opportunity to showcase and build toward Olympic qualification that the World Cup and Intercontinental Cup circuits cannot.

"The North America's Cup is open to just about anybody," he says. "There are certain spots that are there for North Americans and then other nations can put their sliders in."

Calgary is a development hub for sliders in all three major disciplines, including luge, and the track at Canada Olympic Park is one of only four in North America. Many of the international athletes who have come to compete this weekend learned to slide here.

The talent and experience level varies for this competition. Two members of the British men's bobsleigh team have less than a year of experience, while American skeleton athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace is earning her way back to the American national team after two years of absence.

C.O.P. Schedule

Thursday, Nov. 15 

Skeleton Race: 1-5 p.m. 

Bobsleigh 2 man race: 6-10 p.m. 

Friday, Nov. 16 

Skeleton Race: 1-5 p.m. 

Bobsleigh 2 man race: 6-10 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 17

Bobsleigh 4 man Race: 10-12 p.m. 

Bobsleigh 4 Man Race: 2-4 p.m.

"Come race day, you'll notice a huge difference between her and the rest of them," says Graham. Pikus-Pace is expected to race for Team USA on the World Cup circuit this season, possibly as early as next week in Whistler, B.C.

The North America Cup also provides Canadian and American sliders who possess an international passport to compete under a different flag, says Morris. This gives less wintry countries a potential opportunity for Olympic representation. 

"There's also a bunch of ringers in this thing," says Graham. "The Irish gentleman lives in Calgary, the Venezuelan athlete is American and the Israeli athlete is from New Jersey."

Ultimately, for Canadian athletes, the North America's Cup is a proving ground for future development, and placement on the team is fought over.

"They take their best athletes that are moving up and improving," says Morris. "It's a very competitive circuit to get on to." The competition starts Thursday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m.

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