Gale gets skeleton on track |

Gale gets skeleton on track

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

The sport of skeleton in Utah is taking a step, or perhaps, it’s a slide forward on the tails of a Olympic hero.

Tristan Gale, a Utah native, the 2002 Olympic gold medallist in skeleton and a hometown darling of the Salt Lake Games, has agreed to head the Young Sliders summer camp. It is taking place at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) at the end of July and the beginning of August.

The program, which began in February as part of a school project, has gone from an introductory free clinic to two days worth of learning the basics of the sport on the park’s push track a concrete slide that uses rails instead of ice to propel the sleds.

"The camp is designed to give summertime exposure to the sport and see what skeleton athletes do in the off season," Utah Skeleton and Bobsled Association president Don Croce said.

It is also a rare chance to work with an Olympic gold medallist.

"How many kids get the opportunity to do that?" Croce asked.

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Croce said about 40 kids attended the first session last winter, so he is expecting a favorable response for Gale’s camp. Gale commends Croce’s efforts to get skeleton programs running at the UOP.

Croce said it is necessary.

With the track convenient for Parkites, he said it is a shame that there are not more youth programs available in Park City.

"I see having so little numbers involved in the sport as a disservice," Croce said.

Not only is the camp a new one, but the idea of putting young kids on skeleton sleds is also new in America.

"This has never happened before," Gale said. "Luge does stuff with young kids."

Gale began sliding at 18 years old, and most kids get their start at around the age of 14. Croce suspects that the reluctance is influenced by safety, but that hasn’t stopped luge coaches from sending youngsters down the icy track. Both Croce and Gale agree if a kid enjoys sledding, then they are ready to graduate to the skeleton track. The summer camp certainly won’t put any child in harm’s way said Gale and Croce. The sleds run on rails in the summer, and no one is getting sent from the start of the Olympic ice track anytime soon.

Gale has already been working as a coach on a push track, so including the camp in her daily schedule was an easy move. She is also the coach for the Italian national skeleton team, so teaching her sport comes naturally she said. The summer program will allow the kids to get a feel for the sled before the winter comes and hopefully return to try the sport on ice. The exuberant Gale is also excited to see more people try her sport and is happy to have the opportunity to give something back.

"It’s always fun to watch people start skeleton," Gale said. "To see kids at that age — it’s really neat."

Croce and Gale hope to see the Young Sliders Camp eventually lead into a junior program. If enough children sign up for the summer and winter programs, they both project that a junior program will form. Croce says that he has already set aside out about five weeks on the UOP winter track calendar to accommodate local races for kids.

"We’re going to take it step by step and see how it goes," Croce said.

Gale says that in the summer, kids in Park City are often involved with any sports, but generally limit their winter outdoor athletics to skiing or snowboarding. She is hoping that the option of skeleton will give some kids the chance to diversify their winter activities. She says that, in general, kids only think of sliding sports during the Olympics, but if programs like the Young Sliders can be sustained, then kids will be more apt to give the sport a try.

"I’m hoping the kids will go, ‘Oh, I like sledding. Oh, so I like skeleton and sliding sports,’" Gale said.

Croce is also hoping that if more kids try sliding, more fans will be interested.

"There’s such a need for change in our sport," Croce said. "I see this as an opportunity not only to create athletes, but attract fans."

Besides working on push starts, the campers will also take a four-part test, a standard in many winter sports to test ability. The test includes a 30-meter sprint, a vertical-leap test, a hop test and a shot-put throw.

The Utah Skeleton and Bobsled Association’s introductory skeleton program is open to youth ages 8-13. There will be three two-day sessions on July 25-26, Aug. 1-2 and Aug. 8-9. Each session will be held at the Utah Olympic Park. The introductory course will begin at 5 p.m. and end at 6:30 p.m. Youth may sign up for one week (two sessions) or multiple weeks. Registration is under way, and there is a $20 registration fee for each weekly session. Registration is limited. The youth will be taught proper sliding positioning as well as push and load techniques. Participants will receive a Young Sliders program T-shirt. To register, contact the Utah Olympic Park’s Sports Services desk at 658-4208.