- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Two days later, I am approaching the chute dubbed the Hog Pen. It's called this because, at one time or another, it has made every slider scream. I have, until now, found this stretch of track, from Curves 10 through 13, particularly difficult. I have likened this part of the course to the Times Square subway station at rush hour—my commuter nightmare, always getting shoved this way and that.
But this time, for the first time, I drive Curves 10 through 13...well, if not perfectly, at least correctly. It's thrilling, nothing less than thrilling.
Gradually, I move farther up the track. When I start sliding from Curve 5, I find I'm carrying so much speed into the bottom of the course that the G-forces are snapping my head back against the ice. I think to myself: Finally found a use for that weird neck exercise on the Universal machine.
The first time I start from the top of the women's course I am so startled by the turbo boost of speed at Curve 7 that I slip off the sled in the Labyrinth. The sled careens down the track ahead of me, and I slide on my stomach for more than a hundred yards. On my second attempt from the Ladies Start, I steer too late in Curve 12 and continue to head straight when the course veers left. I belt the wall, and the sled lands on my head, crushing my chin against the ice. "Holy cow, that smarts!" I scream. Or something to that effect.
I am so shaken I want to cry, but when the track announcer asks, through the P.A. system, whether I am O.K., I gamely offer a thumbs-up. Everything aches as I slowly sit up. Where's my sled? Who cares. Where's my chin?
After sliding for a few days from the Ladies Start—five runs a day, for a total of four minutes of action over six hours—I grow accustomed to the speed and am no longer afraid. I learn to drive the track, rather than just hang on for dear life. Seldom, now, do I smash into the icy walls. I start to remove my pads, one by one. I'm beginning to feel like a slider, not just a survivor. After one particularly clean run I pick up a walkie-talkie to converse with coaches stationed along the track. "Hey, Dmitry, how'd I look in Curve 5?"
"You were so quiet coming down I almost didn't see you," he radios to me. "On this run, you make like a big Russian sausage."
"I don't get it."
"Is good. Sausage is good."
Finally, after all this training, I am ready. I am a sausage. I'm all set for the big day: Senior National Team Seeding Race Day, the first of the preliminary heats for the nationals.