This one time at Luge camp…

This year saw the first time that both disciplines of the Luge descended on RAF Halton for the selection event.
The majority of athletes arrived on 22 Oct 13 in extremely poor conditions, though the mood amongst both experienced and novice sliders was still not dampened.

Day one
was full of introductions and a quick brief on the 2 disciplines by Flt Lt Dunlop (Natural) and Flt Lt Arnold (Artificial). We then collected the equipment and split into two respective groups.  The event itself is tailored more to the Natural Luge, but with places becoming extremely competitive for the Ice Training Camps the three days gave a great insight into what can be expected from each team.

Concentrating on the Natural Luge it was good to see some of the old competitors return, however this year there were plenty of fresh faces, which can only be good for the RAF and the sport itself.  The morning session started with simple drills leading to a small and very fun track run.  The conditions had improved from the earlier thunderstorms to fairly clear skies but the track remained very wet making it a challenge for whichever level was taking part.  Flt Lt Dunlop started the morning session with what would become an essential braking lesson which everyone seemed to grasp, SAC Lizzie Driver, SAC Sam Budd and SAC Dave Hayes left off where they did from the Ice Camp and returning sliders SAC Ben Macintosh and Flt Lt Barry Lloyd added to the experience of the groups.  The novices taking part all quickly got the hang of it and it was time to add in a few turns, then the fun really began.

Natural Luge is the lesser known cousin to the Artificial Luge,  but with the techniques required to get to the bottom of the track far more complex – it soon became apparent to novices that the day was going to be hard work but immensely fun.  A few people became accustomed to the verges and kerbs but still had positive and smiling faces on the way back up.

The group appeared to pick it up really quickly and again the course was made a little more complex.  With a lot of instruction on hand and support staff, it was good to see such a large group enjoying the experience. Even those struggling a little were still giving back positive feedback and showing determination to succeed.  Comments such as “I am not leaving this hill until I have done it”, or “I have hit everything but I am having a great time” were heard from the hill.  By the end of the first training session the majority had grasped the fundamentals and were ready for the next phases.

As this was a combined training camp, novices and some personnel who had the experience of both disciplines switched over for the afternoon.  It was good to receive feedback from a number of the Artificial sliders who had already competed in their respective Ice Camp, with a number of them deciding they were now torn on which discipline they preferred, with one individual stating “I wish I had not turned up as now I have a big decision to make!”

Day Two
Clear skies greeted the participants with everyone raring to go. Just to have a final check the two groups ran through the basic skills before moving over to the course which had been swept clear of the wet autumn leaves by Sqn Ldr Adamson, SAC Unwin and Cpl Holmes.  The rugby pads had been placed strategically down the course to cover possible hazards and we were all set to go.  Once the novices had gone over the drills of the first day it was straight to the track area to tackle some more challenging turns.  Starting at the lower end of the track the first turn to be negotiated was the 90 degree finishing turn, which at low speed the majority of grasped fairly quickly.  As the day went on and the speed increased there were some minor brushes with kerbs, hedges and trees or as Cpl Burke called it “Controlled Crashes”, but nothing to deter anyone from continuing – with a comment from Cpl Reale summing the whole experience up, “My favourite part was finally getting round the bottom corner after what seemed like a hundred attempts”, often frustrating but so rewarding when getting things right.  The afternoon continued with people progressing very well and working their way further up the track, always being encouraged and supported by the more experienced sliders.  The day ended with the vast majority of novices getting a run from almost the top of what would be the race course.  The evening saw everybody go out for a meal with the conversation revolving around the tactics for the next day and the differences of the two disciplines.

Day Three
Race day had arrived and this is what everyone had been gearing up for.  The day was again clear and fresh, a little damp on the surface but other than that a near perfect day for sliding.  The sliders had a couple of practices from lower down the track before working their way higher up the course. There was a lot of logistics involved in ensuring a safe run for the sliders, with plenty of assistance on hand for traffic control, timing, sled preparation and finally lots of encouragement. It was time for the timed runs to take place with the more experienced sliders Flt Lt Dunlop, SAC Sam Budd and SAC Ben Mackintosh taking the first runs to set the timing standards.  With such a large group it took a while to get everybody down the hill and record a time, but there were some fantastic efforts across the board. There was the odd scuff with the kerbs or hedges, or in Cpl Holmes’ case his annual attempt at gaining the best crash award.

The overall standings were as expected, taken by three experienced sliders SAC Macintosh (50.06secs) taking first and closely followed by SAC Budd (50.57secs) and Flt Lt Dunlop (51.22secs). The Novice timings were also very impressive with SAC Clements (51.25secs) in first, SAC(T) Smith (54.65secs) second and Sgt Moores (56.25secs) in third.  There was also big competition in the Ladies’ event with the first three separated by only 2.74secs. Experienced slider SAC Lizzie Driver (1.01.93) was pushed all the way by novice slider Sgt Lisa Taylor (1.02.20), who took second just ahead of another novice, Cpl Lindsay Wellings (1.04.67).

The overall standings were competitive across the board and it is testament to the efforts of those running the event that saw all the individuals progress over the three days, this effort is best summed up by Cpl Wellings’ statement, “The passion for the sport from the instructors was evident throughout, and what was most amazing is that all of us managed to go from massively struggling, to control the sled down that first small slope round the cones, to doing a full timed run of the Halton hill.  Excellent fun and a great introduction to a sport I didn’t even know existed prior to the taster event”.

It was safe to say that this first combined Street Luge event was a success, with the team managers of each discipline now having the difficult decision on who will take the places for the respective Ice Camps to be held in Austria and Italy and good luck to all who gain a place for those events.

For more information visit the British Luge Facebook page and follow the three athletes who have been selected for the Natural Luge to represent the GBR team on the World Cup Circuit for three months.