Canada’s Olympians trust their competitors even though one of their own was a victim of equipment tampering. But they’ve also stepped up vigilance around their skates and sleds at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The sport community was stunned when American short-track speedskater Simon Cho confessed on Oct. 5, 2012, that he sabotaged the skates of Canadian Oliver Jean at the 2011 world team championship.
Cho apologized to Jean and said he was pressured into doing so by a coach. Cho was subsequently suspended from competition for two years which means the 2010 bronze medallist is not here in Sochi.
Jean of Lachenaie, Que., was gracious in the aftermath. He expressed some sympathy for Cho. But once bitten, twice shy when it comes to skate security.
“Since then, we make sure that our skates are under constant surveillance,” Jean said. “Here in Sochi, there will always be somebody from team in the dressing room making sure everything is fine. We will make sure that they won’t be left visible at any time.”
The short-track team keeps their skates closer at hand now.
“We have our skates with us more often than maybe in the past,” said teammate Marianne St. Gelais of St.-Felicien, Que.
“I don’t think things like that are going to happen again because of the consequences, but honestly, yes, someone is always in the room or we have our skates with us.”
Athletes form small, tight communities, even with rivals, while they travel around the world for months. Sabotage is considered such a violation of sportsmanship that athletes can’t even fathom it.
“As bad as people want it, everyone is friends on our tour,” Calgary snowboarder Chris Robanske said. “Our equipment is safe. Our wax techs take care of it and make sure nothing gets tampered with, but to be honest, my mind would be blown if anyone even touched our gear at all.”
Only airport security can pry skates out of the figure skaters hands.
“Even on the planes, we take them with us when we can,” said Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C. “Sometimes on internationals (flights) we can’t and we have to check them.
“Basically our skates are our lifeline and our equipment. If it’s not working right, it affects us to the point where we can’t perform, so it’s incredibly important we keep our equipment with us at all times.
Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., says she and pairs partner Rudi Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., have backup skates in Sochi.
Bobsleds and luge and skeleton sleds are not as portable as skates, so secure transportation and storage is more complicated.
Olympic bobsled champion Kaillie Humphries says her sled usually follows her in the team’s truck to the hotel and back to the track every day on the World Cup circuit. That isn’t happening in Sochi.
“It’s different because your sled can’t come (with you) from your hotel with you every day,” the Calgarian explained. “Transportation is different so it has to sit in these crates and containers. There is no guarantee. The containers have locks on them and you get given a key. Could there be a master key? Could there be 500 of them? Yeah.
“We do our checks every single day and make sure things look right. There’s always going to be the bad apples of sport, but bobsleigh is a unique community and I honestly, truly believe no one would do that.
“We compete against time. You can mess with somebody else’s equipment, but it makes the sport dangerous. It’s already dangerous enough. We already do a sport where death is unfortunately one of the options.”
The bobsled team locks sleds and runners away for reasons other than security. The equipment arms race is intense in sliding sports. Every athlete wants the latest, and fastest, technology that no one else has.
“People in bobsleigh like to be very secretive,” Edmonton driver Jenny Ciochetti says. “With everyone’s new sleds, they don’t like other people looking inside them.”
The Canadian women’s ski jumping team had an equipment scare upon their arrival in Sochi when skis went missing.
“Right when we arrived, I told our athletes to put our skis in this bus,” coach Gregor Linsig said. “And then two of our skis got whisked off in another bus and before we could get it, they were gone.
“But we went to the hill and those other two missing skis were at the hill. We checked over them. Everything was good. And they’re locked and secured now in our wax cabin up at the ski jump.”
The women’s hockey team has complete faith in the caretaking abilities of longtime equipment manager Robin McDonald “who is an awesome equipment manager and has done this for so long with men’s and women’s teams,” says forward Hayley Wickenheiser of Shaunavon, Sask.
She’s is more concerned about supplements, which athletes take in pill or powder to recover from hard training.
“You want to keep those in a locked area to make sure no one can get into them and make sure they’re not tampered with,” Wickenheiser says.