November 5 - Over 130 luge athletes from 26 countries got their first experience of the track they hope to compete on in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games here today as the uniquely safety-conscious Sanki Sliding Centre opened for an international training week.
The track - which is the first in Russia to meet international standards - is the only one in the world with three upward slopes, which will safeguard athletes' security by slowing their speed, thus guarding against any repeat of accidents such as the one which occurred at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, when Georgian luge slider Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed after crashing during a training run.
The event on the new luge and bobsleigh track marks the opening of the international 2012-2013 season and precedes the World Cup event which will take place in the Olympic venue next February.
The world leaders in luge - Germany, Italy, Austria, Canada and Latvia - and representatives of the other countries taking part have been divided into four training groups to ensure that all the athletes have equal opportunities and time on the track.
"Today's event sees the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee ramp up the testing of the Olympic services facilities and services into top gear," Dmitry Chernyshenko, President and chief executive of Sochi 2014, said.
"This is a complex process, given it demands the involvement of a large number of people from across several organisations and departments.
"It is the very first time that such a significant number of competitions are being held at a recently constructed venue, so strong teamwork with all the various bodies working in unison will be vital to deliver the important test successfully.
"We are clear that the best international luge athletes gathering in Sochi bring with it an additional responsibility, with our entire team wanting to prove we are as prepared as possible and working effectively together to deliver the event to the highest standards."
Bjorn Dirdal, technical delegate from the International Luge Federation (FIL), added: "We are pleased to be opening the new 2012-2013 competitive luge season with the start of the International Training Week in Sochi.
"It is extremely symbolic that this pre-Olympic season is commencing in the city that's going to host the Olympic Winter Games in 2014 and is very exciting for all the athletes taking part.
"I've already seen with my own eyes the high levels of enthusiastic and professionalism shown by the staff at the Sanki Sliding Centre.
"The luge and bobsleigh track is ready to host international competitions of the very highest standard.
"I'm confident that the International Training Week will give the luge athletes from around the world a wonderful opportunity to experience what the track is like ahead of returning to Sochi for the World Cup and the Olympic Games in 2014 to write an exciting new chapter in the history of international luge sport."
The centralised services for athletes during the International Training Week, such as arrivals and departures, transport, catering, communications and weather forecast, are being coordinated by the Test Events Operations Centre situated in Krasnaya Polyana.
All the functional areas of activity that need to be operational at the at the Games-time are being put through full-scale testing, given that the staff in the Operations Centre includes employees of Sochi 2014 and representatives of Olympstroy, the Krasnodar Region and Sochi Administration as well as experts in the fields of medicine, transport and security.
Olympstroy has played a vital role in the test event preparations, being responsible for luge and bobsleigh track operation.
"The track is a unique construction in technical terms, built using a great deal of expertise given its setting in difficult geological surroundings," Hamit Mavliyarov, the first vice-president of Olympstroy, explained.
"Scientists, designers, engineers and builders were involved in the work to create the challenging yet safe track being tested today.
"The test event is essential to allow us to learn both the technical and organisational amendments we may need to make and ensure we deliver them for Games-time.
"This is a highly significant event for our learning, a big test for all of us that we are taking very seriously.
"The feedback on the ice surface has been very good; while overall we're delighted that the athletes are so keen to train here.
"The doors are open, we delivered the ice and the track is ready – it is time to use it."
Sochi 2014's team includes highly-qualified experts, athletes with considerable experience and the heads of luge and bobsleigh competitions including Kirill Serikov, a member of Russia's Olympic luge team at the 2006 Games in Turin, and Normunds Kotans, who has competed in stages of the European Cup and junior world champions and been in the Latvian national bobsleigh team for five years.
The Olympic track runs through the northern slope of the Aibga Ridge, which is protected against direct sunlight, in the village of Krasnaya Polyana.
The total length of the track is 1,814 metres, 314m of which is the braking zone, with a maximum speed of 135 kilometres per hour.
The track reflects, to the greatest possible extent, the existing relief in the locality, with its highest point measuring 836m above sea level and its low point at the 704m mark.
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November 2012: Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic ice track set for first test
April 2012: Exclusive - Sochi 2014 under pressure over training access to venues
March 2012: Sochi 2014 bobsleigh track ready for international certification, says FIBT President Ferriani
April 2010: Sochi promise to take no risks over luge track for 2014 Olympics