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OLYMPIC REVIEW67 VENUEFORMGUIDE STAR INTERVIEW Switzerland and Germany have powered their way to the bulk of the top Olympic prizes in bobsleigh since the sport made its debut in 1924. But in Vancouver, teams from the United States, Canada, Latvia, Italy and Great Britain will be battling to make sure there is no repeat of Germany's unprecedented clean sweep of all three gold medals in Turin four years ago. Switzerland's Beat Hefti topped the two- man rankings at the end of the World Cup season and he is followed by Germans Thomas Florschuetz and bobsleigh icon Andre Lange, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner. Another Swiss, Ivo Rüegg, finished fourth after another consistent season, which he capped by winning the world two- man title, with brakeman Cédric Grand. Contenders in the four-man race are Lange, Alexsandr Zubkov of Russia and American Steven Holcomb. Not to be discounted in either men's race is Canadian Pierre Lueders. In the women's event a handful of challengers will be aiming to put the brakes on German Sandra Kiriasis's bid for a second consecutive Olympic gold. In Vancouver all eyes could be on the anticipated duel between Kiriasis, who recently claimed her fifth consecutive World Cup title, and Shauna Rohbock of the US, a former professional soccer player who is now an Army National Guard in Utah and who won silver in Turin. Barging into medals contention could also be Britain's Nicola Minichiello, whose confidence will be flying after winning a first world title in February, and the Canadian sleds of Helen Upperton and Kaillie Humphries. Looking at results over the 2009 season Germany could be in line for a first gold medal in skeleton's third appearance at the Games although Switzerland, the USA and Britain will be tough to beat in Vancouver. Switzerland's Gregor Stähli, an Olympic bronze medal winner in 2002 and 2006, won his third world title, at the age of 41, by beating Britain's Adam Pengilly and 2009 World Cup champion Alexander Tretiakov at Lake Placid. Canada's Jeff Pain, who won silver in Turin, was fourth overall. In the women's competition Marion Trott added the overall World Cup crown to her world title from Lake Placid. Trott beat Britain's Amy Williams. Another German, Kerstin Szymkowiak, finished third ahead of compatriot and defending champion Anja Huber. However, Mellisa Hollingsworth of Canada will be looking to use local knowledge to her benefit. The Whistler Sliding Centre will be the home of the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton competitions. Based outside Vancouver, on the southeast slope of Blackcomb Mountain, the venue has been built on the shared traditional territories of the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations. As such it is an area designated as a Spirited Place: special, sacred places that have a long and rich history among the local indigenous people. Started in 2005 and opened in 2008, the refrigerated track has the capacity to welcome 12,000 spectators. The track itself is reputed to be the fastest, steepest and loudest of any in the world. Chances for respite between its 16 turns will be few and far between - the pressure will be on the medal contenders from the word go. Post- Games the track will form part of the centre for high- performance development, youth and recreational club programming and will cater for tourist and public admissions as well as remaining a top venue for world class athletes. SPORTS PROFILES BelowSandra Kiriasis ( left) will be bidding to defend her women's bobsleigh title in Vancouver

68OLYMPIC REVIEW NICOLA MINICHIELLO ( GBR) - WORLD CHAMPION IVO RÜEGG ( SUI) - WORLD CHAMPION TWO- MAN EVENT You have raced on the Whistler track already, how would you describe it? It's the ultimate as regards speed and technique, with a lot of corners and a fast start. Some tracks favour good drivers while others favour teams who are fast at the start but this one is the best all- round track. For us, it's great. Germany have a strong tradition in bobsleigh but who will be your biggest rivals? Germany and the Americans will have strong teams but for me Canada will be the favourites. We've had a chance to race on the track but Canada have been training on it regularly since it opened and that will be a key part of the race. But, they say it takes eight years to make a great bobsleigh driver, and next year I'll be in my eighth year. What factors make a successful bobsleigh team? We do a lot of work in the off- season, power training and running on the track. We also have two push tracks in England where we can practise our starts. But there's also of lot of visualisation ( of the race). Physically you can do the race only so many times, with corners coming at you at anything up to 95 mph, so you have to visualise it as much as possible to make sure you find the right line. Has winning a first gold world championship medal in the two- man event changed your expectations for Vancouver? It hasn't changed much, to be honest - our intention remains the same. We want to win an Olympic medal, whether it's in the two- man or four- man event. It would be ideal if we could win one from each event. What changes have you made to your approach to competition since you competed at the Turin Games? Now I have the certainty and self- confidence that I can win a big race. This kind of experience was something I didn't have in Turin. We've improved in several departments - athletically, materially and of course mentally. With every track having its own characteristics, what is your opinion of the Whistler track in Vancouver - and who do you expect to excel there next February? The bob run in Whistler/ Vancouver is very fast ( you can reach over 150km/ h). It means you can't afford to make any big mistakes, otherwise your chances of a medal are gone. Also the start is not comparable with other bob runs. After just a few metres, you start to hit high speed. Naturally, I hope we finish ahead of everyone else! BelowRüegg and Minichiello are among the leading contenders for gold in their respective events SPORTS PROFILES