Learning curve ratchets up for Novak
Skeleton newcomer's training moves north to Canada
KINGMAN - Imagine being strapped face down to the bottom of a car while it's traveling down Interstate 40. That's what Chris Novak said it felt like when he reached speeds up to 73 mph from the top of the bobsled track for the first time at Park City, Utah, sliding in the sport of skeleton over the Thanksgiving holiday.
"It feels like you're flying," the 16-year-old Novak said. "It feels both real and fake at the same time."
Ever since he watched the sport on TV during the Olympics last February, Novak has been training and traveling to make his own Olympic dream come true.
He began his trek in Lake Placid, N.Y., and has made several trips to Park City to work with Utah Athletic Foundation Bobsled and Skeleton coach Pat Brown.
"Chris is sliding quite well," Brown said. "He's got the typical problem with all athletes. They want to go too fast too quickly."
Novak paid a small price for falling into that trap. On his last run down the track Nov. 27, he banged his helmet hard on the ice while negotiating a turn. He required six stitches over his left eye, and what he thought would be his fastest run was ruined.
"We tell athletes they have to do neck exercises to strengthen them because as speed increases, so do G-forces," Brown said. " You start down the hill and your head weighs 10 pounds. During the run when you get to a full 3-Gs, your head weighs 30 pounds. Chris doesn't have the neck strength yet, but it'll come."
Novak said he learned some valuable lessons after cracking his head open on that run.
"I definitely need to respect and become friends with the track," he said. "I can't get too cocky with the track."
Novak's best finish to date is 54.75 seconds from top to finish, and he's made it through the learning curve in skeleton. He has demonstrated he can handle the speed, now he has to comprehend what is happening during that 54-second ride.
"At a certain level, you reach a plateau," Brown said. "Now Chris has to rely on knowledge and steering to start finding those 100ths and 10ths of a second for improvement."
Actions speak louder than words, and it's easy to see that Brown believes in Novak's potential. Brown will be taking Novak and four other skeleton athletes to Calgary, Canada next week for more training runs.
Park City is hosting the World Cup in bobsledding, and because of a reciprocity agreement with Calgary, U.S. athletes can train there. The UAF is providing transportation and housing and can do that because of the Ulcer Bike Ride sponsored by the Bonneville Cycling Club in Park City. For every registered rider, BCC donates $5 to the Bobsled and Skeleton Development Program.
"Without them, we couldn't make this trip," Brown said.
Novak is more than ready to learn a new track while barreling down a bobsled track headfirst.
"It's crazy fun. Going faster is way more fun and exciting," he said. "I've done better than I thought I would. I had a feeling that I would do good, but all the feedback I've gotten has me excited."