RAF Natural Luge Championships 2014 Lusen Italy

After what could only be described as a scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles the RAF Natural Luge Team arrived in a picturesque Lusen, Italy. The journey for some had been two days but, even for those taking the flying option the journey was not without the odd delay.

The programme of events was to be hectic, but one that everybody was looking forward to. Having had the taster of Street Luge, this was going to be one of the most competitive RAF Championships for some time.

It had been a late night but everyone was in breakfast and raring to get to the track and for those who had not been there, see for themselves what others had been telling them all about. We arrived and conditions were not great, the weather had been warm so the track was soft and a lot of it was out of use due to track preparation. Flt Lt Eddy Dunlop with the assistance of GB Slider SAC Sam Budd took the group through the skills that they had learnt during the Street Luge event at RAF Halton, in order to prepare everyone for time on the ice, whilst assisting staff helped the local track staff clear an area of the track. Braking and control was going to be key to successful time on the ice, which everybody was now looking forward to, albeit with a little anxiety as to what to expect. A great sense of foreboding and trepidation swept over us, “What had we got ourselves involved in?” A question I last asked myself the day I joined up, standing in the snow at RTS, RAF Halton, with a freshly shaved head’.

Everybody seemed to get to grips with the new conditions fairly comfortably and as promised the transition from road to ice had been made easier by attendance at the Street Luge and because of this the progression up the track taking in more turns was much quicker.

Later that day we had the opportunity to see the GB sliders (SAC Ben MacIntosh, SAC Lizzie Driver, SAC Sam Budd and SAC Dave Clayton) in action, in the World Parallel Championships being held 22 miles away in Vols. The trip took just over an hour through steep mountain villages and a 15 minute exhilarating cable car ride to reach the beautiful ski resort. The track was a lot shorter and had two runs side by side to add a more competitive edge to the championships. Sgt Lisa Taylor reflected on the visit to Vols: “In the afternoon we were lucky enough to be able to attend the World Parallel Natural Luge Championships, in which four RAF personnel were representing Great Britain. It was great to see them participating in a Luge event on the world stage, especially as 3 of them had only been within the Luge setup for a couple of years. It shows that those who have the aptitude and ability can be selected for the GB team in a short space of time.”

The second day started off with everybody buoyed by the experiences of the day before and we went to a more complex part of the track to start putting together combinations of turns and this did not come easy as SAC Gary Kearney would testify: “The second day on the ice proved difficult for me, the learning curve was steep and although the ice time was sufficient and the teaching on the mark, I struggled to grasp turning left. I had the luxury of filming my run using a Go-pro helmet mounted camera; this gave me the ability to look back at the footage and see what I was doing wrong, and correct it for the afternoon runs.”

The progression of the athletes was excellent as they listened to coaching tips. We were lucky to have a professional cameraman on the team, Paul Saxby who produced some spectacular shots and footage, all of which were an excellent educational tool for the evenings debriefs. This year we had the benefit of having a number of personnel out on certain parts of the track, to both co-ordinate and control safety but also to provide immediate feedback to sliders on their runs. The information from Sqn Ldr Claire Adamson, Cpl Michelle Jude, Flt Lt Barry Lloyd and Mr Derek Prentice (GB Luge) was really beneficial to all.

Day Three and all the talk at breakfast was about the race later that afternoon, there was definitely a competitive edge amongst the group and it was clear that people were going to push themselves to the limit to take top spot. It was back to the track and another walk through to familiarise ourselves with the track, something that people had become accustomed to, in order to make sure they had the race track ingrained in their minds. Visualising the course and the corners is vital prior to the race to get focused. The morning session would be a case of all sliders getting runs on the race section as many times as possible.

Whilst this was happening Flt Lt Dunlop took the opportunity to allowing SAC Dex Unwin the chance to build his coaching skills for future years, by giving feedback to the sliders. These foundations are building for the future of RAF Natural Luge, which is looking extremely bright with the large number of young participants. SAC Dex Unwin summed up his new coaching experience: ‘In between my runs I was helping the other sliders with their technique and lines and getting great feedback, as I could see they were taking on board what I was saying. It was a great learning experience for me.’

The time had come to head back to the track where the race order list, race suits and number bibs had been issued to members of the team. With the safety team in place there was only one thing left and that was to race. As expected the competition levels were high throughout the levels of experience and the overall positions would not be decided until the final competitor.

The race was complete, the standings were confirmed between the race officials Sqn Ldr Claire Adamson and Flt Lt Barry Lloyd, the only action remaining was to announce the overall winners for the Novice Championships and the RAF Championships.

Taking the RAF Title was Flt Lt Eddy Dunlop, closely followed by SAC Dex Unwin (who did not make the final run due to an earlier crash, so his time was taken from his practice run) and 3rd place went to SAC(T) Joshua Reeves. The novice race proved that the standards were equally high with the title going to SAC(T) Joshua Reeves, followed by SAC Jack Little in 2nd, and SAC(T) Matt Jackson in 3rd.

The event had come to an end, all that needed doing was to prepare the kit for its return journey to RAF Cranwell and have a few drinks to celebrate what had been a very enjoyable and successful trip to Lusen, Italy.

This without doubt was a massive learning curve for those who had not been on the ice before. Everyone was professional throughout and made the most of the opportunity they had been given. For some it is the participation and the  enjoyment of getting that clean slide, and for others it is all about trying to get themselves to that next level.

For more information email- Flt Lt Eddy Dunlop (CRN-RecruitSelect-ERS-SO3) or Sqn Ldr Claire Adamson (Air-COSPers-MannA1Ops SO2).