Soldiers train for Winter Olympics in sizzling summer heat

by David Vergun
Army News Service

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- The dog days of summer are here in Lake Placid with temperatures getting up into the 80s.

Despite the balmy weather, about a dozen Soldiers in the World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, are busy training for the bobsled, skeleton and luge events of the Winter Olympics, which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February.

So how do they train in the heat?

In June and July, the Soldiers go to the push track at the Olympic Training Center here, said Capt. Michael Kohn, WCAP coach for the U.S. Bobsled Team and a Soldier in the Virginia Army National Guard.

The push track is actually a railroad track that slopes down a hill about 50 meters and then slopes back up the same length to slow the push car's momentum. The push car itself is a frame that mimics a bobsled, but runs on small railroad wheels instead of metal runners.

The push track is used to condition the athletes for strength training, Kohn said, because the wheels on the push car have more friction than sled rails on ice and this increases resistance to pushing. The skeleton and luge athletes also train on the push track.

Park City, Utah, is the only other location in the U.S. with a push track, he added.

Beginning in October, the luge athletes begin training on a twisting 1,800-foot concrete downhill course here, which is also used by the bobsled and skeleton crew. Ammonia pipes inside the concrete refrigerate the track so that even if the temperature outside is 70 degrees, the track will remain frozen, he said. However, it's usually a lot cooler in October.


About 50 percent of a successful run depends on the beginning portion of the bobsled race, which involves a vigorous push, Kohn said.

About 25 percent involves having good equipment such as finely-tuned metal runners and a frame with good aerodynamic qualities. The final 25 percent involves skill in driving, which is up to the athlete in the front of a bobsled, he said.

Success also depends on correctly reading the curvature of the track and the ice conditions at any given time, Kohn said. Also, there are spots where the driver needs to steer and others where the driver doesn't.

The athletes also train and compete on different tracks around the world leading up to the Olympics, he said, and each track is unique and requires different steering plans. "It keeps you on your toes," he added.


Kohn said his father was a Green Beret in the 1960s, and he wanted to follow in his footsteps.

At the same time, he said he had a passion for becoming an Olympian.

Kohn found out about the World Class Athlete Program while in the Army and joined WCAP in 1999. So now he has fulfilled both of his dreams, he said.

The payoff came in 2002, when Kohn earned a bronze medal in bobsledding in the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, Utah. He's been coaching for eight years now and said it's "an honor to coach these Soldiers. They're go-getters. They're the type of people who want to be successful in their military careers as well as in their athletic careers, and they're going to be successful people in life."


The Luge Training Center is just a short walk from the Olympic Training Center,

The center is inside a building with three ice tracks about 25 meters long that converge to an uphill track to slow the momentum.

This is the only refrigerated indoor luge track in the U.S., said Sgt. Matthew Mortensen, WCAP luge driver and National Guard Soldier based out of the 1156th Engineer Company, Kingston, New York.

Athletes training for luge spend the first portion of the summer on the push track for resistance training then move to the ice track for speed training, he said. Right now, the athletes are doing the speed portion.

Mortensen said that all of the athletes from bobsled, luge and skeleton do a lot of weight training, particularly the explosive Olympic-type lifts, as well as sprinting and plyometrics to ensure an explosively-fast race start which can make or break a speed run.

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