Jan. 27, 2006 — Four V.I. athletes from St. John — Alexa Putnam, Chutney Mohler, Greg Miller and Troy Billington — were all in Koenigssee, Germany, Jan. 21 to 22, to compete for a place in the Skeleton event in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Skeleton competition has been an international sport for many years, but was just added to the Olympics in 2002. The event is run on a bobsled track and requires that competitors slide down headfirst on a 3-feet-long by 16-inch-wide sled that weighs between 70 to 115 pounds. Despite the cold (10 below zero on some days), the team had its own flag-waving, loyal USVI cheering section!
The Challenge Cup gives lower-ranked skeleton athletes, like the USVI team, a chance to qualify for the Olympics. David Kurtz, vice president of FIBT International Affairs, said, "The Challenge Cup is great because it allows talented but less experienced sliders a chance to move up in rank and qualify for the Olympics. Just like in all sports, it is important to bring new blood' into sliding. The Challenge Cup gives beginning athletes, like the USVI athletes, the chance to compete against higher ranked athletes."
Luge vs Skeleton?
Skeleton may be a dangerous sport, but the more commonly known luge, in which the slider lies feet first on a sled, might be more dangerous. Veteran skeleton slider Dave Graham said, "The luge sled is far less stable then the skeleton sled which, all by itself, will take a perfect line down the track. But luge sliders must precisely steer their sleds, and mistakes are easy to make. Also, both luge and skeleton sliders often hit the sides of the run. The skeleton sled better protects the slider on impact than the luge sled."
World Cup Qualifiers
Unfortunately, the competition was very stiff, and none of the USVI sliders qualified for the Olympics. Over the two days of competition, Alexa placed in the top 10 and Chutney was 10th the first day and 11th the second day. Greg was 19th of 29 the first day and 17th the second. Troy was 18th of 29 the first day and 22nd of 29 the second day.
The good news is that the women's combined scores placed the USVI 3rd overall. This means that the USVI women are qualified to move up a level of competition from the Europa Cup to the World Cup. The USVI men are ranked 7th. They needed at least a 4th-place ranking to move up, so the USVI men will continue to compete on the Europa Cup circuit.
For now Alexa and Chutney will be training and competing at St. Moritz, Switzerland, with their eyes on the 2010 Olympics.
They will continue to gain experience and look forward to representing the USVI.
"I love representing the USVI. Competing is hard work but worth it. I look forward to training next year in Utah and continuing to slide for the USVI." Chutney Mohler's mother, aunt and uncle were also in Koenigssee to cheer the team on.
The price of competing is high and all of the athletes mostly pay for all of their own expenses. Said Troy Billington, "It can cost up to $7,000 per year to compete, and we have to mostly find our own funding sources." Local businesses have contributed the sliding suits and warm-up outfits, which was a big help to the team.
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