Skeleton SEASON REPORT – 2018

SSgt Nicky Moxon RSIGS

Skeleton athletes travel face down and head first with their helmets only 5cm from the ice at speeds that can reach 130 Kph! Needless to say, everyone that takes part quickly becomes pretty fearless! The race begins with a running start from the top of the track. A fast start is crucial. This is where races can be won or lost; pace, explosive power and skill to move the sled as quickly as possible and leap on. The clock does not start until they reach the 15m point.

Once the athlete has leapt onto the sled, focus and fast reflexes when travelling around each curve of the track are vital – as is having the discipline to maintain the most aerodynamic position. It does not take long for the athletes to reach great speeds and experience up to 5Gs. This is whilst their head and feet hang just over the sled; on some high speed corners their helmet can actually touch and scrape along the ice due to the excessive speed and pressure. This can be tricky as the athlete might have obscured vision and have to feel their way around the corners until the pressure is reduced. That is not an easy task and constant track walks and analysing track notes are a must for all athletes (whether they are Novice, senior or elite) so that they memorise every element.

Whilst steering the sled it is imperative that athletes only move when needing to steer, otherwise any slight movement at high speed will change the direction of airflow past them causing the sled to unintentionally move. This will have a dramatic effect on the success of the run, increasing their overall down time and finish position. To steer the sled they shift body weight, applying downward pressure using knees and shoulders on a corner of the sled. Reaching out and tapping a toe also alters the direction in which they wish to turn. Every soldier that attends the novice camps will be on a gradual learning curve for steering and running starts; it’s easy to image what would happen if too much was done too soon!

There is not much personal kit needed for Skeleton. The specialist race helmets need to be strong to withstand impact but also light enough for high speed corners when experiencing high Gs. Skeleton spikes differ from normal running spikes and contain 300 needle-like projections; athletes need to grip the ice at the start so that they can push the sled with maximum power and pace. Both helmet and spikes are provided for Army personnel that take part in skeleton. The race suit has also been developed to be the most aerodynamic; it is a tailored fit with no loose material to create drag.

Ex RACING ICE 1 2017

The novice camp was held in Igls, Austria and allowed both Regular and Reserve soldiers the chance to take part in one of the three ice sports available. It is a definitely a test of nerves, excitement and adrenaline … racing down an Olympic track whilst experiencing speeds of 100 Kph is not for the faint hearted! This did not deter the novices this season and though numbers were slightly lower than in previous years, the quality was exceptional and promoted the ‘Sport for all’ ethos.

After a long coach journey from Aldershot, Ex RACING ICE 1 began when the novices arrived at the Waltzl, a small and friendly hotel located just outside the city of Innsbruck where the Army has stayed for many years. Everyone who stepped off the coach had a nervous but excited demeanour about them.

After the arrival brief from the Exercise OIC, Maj Tim Haskell, the athletes were introduced to their discipline heads and coaches. The skeleton training team consisted of both military and civilian staff and coaches and was led by SSgt Nicky Moxon RSIGS, head coach ex-GB athlete and RLC soldier Mr Stuart Hayden and assistant coaches and staff; SSgt Mel Vernon RSIGS, SSgt Julia Bloomer RAPTC, Sgt Dave Manning RSIGS and Reservist Cpl David Phillips of the Rifles. We also had excellent trackside medical cover from Cpl Hayley Needes and Cpl Natasha Sinclair. All team members have a vast amount of experience and were able to reassure Novices that they were in safe hands.

Once briefs had been given, the groups were taken to the Olympic track. On first viewing it is no ordinary feeling stood next to the finish curve when an athlete speeds past head first. Thoughts and questions that fill the air are mostly ‘that cannot be what I will be doing, surely’ or ‘how do I slow myself down’. The first answer is a definite yes, and sorry there are no breaks on your sled!

Next step the novices are introduced to the equipment. Excitement and nerves are clearly visible when they are given the sleds that will be taking them down the track. The amount of padding everyone brings with them is plentiful. Whilst it is a requirement initially, they can take on the appearance of a walking roll-matt and too much can be a hindrance. Once the equipment has been issued, essential instruction is taught and a track walk is done, all ready for the first day on ice. Luckily Head coach Stu has a calming Scottish accent that puts the Novices at ease for the following day.

The breakfast prior to hitting the track on the first day is always quiet. Some novices are tense and anxious about what the first trip down the track will be like, whilst others seem to be a little more confident and excited. Nerves and excitement can be difficult to manage, whether it is the first time on the ice or with years of experience.

Day one the soldiers quickly learned how to control their initial fear and how to react or not at speed; everyone had masses of courage and a huge will to succeed. Two runs which are called laufs were completed whilst the slider became best friends with their sled. At the end of the first day, another track walk was completed and coaching given with the main focus on body position. It’s amazing how difficult a novice slider can find keeping their head close to the ice with feet in the downward position so as not to represent a wind block.

Day two is when reality hits as the novice sliders started from the top of the track. This is another fear hurdle to overcome as speeds increase; some travelled around the finish curve unaware of what had just happened or that they were at the end! Sliders had various ways to prepare, whether on their own or in a group, some were quiet whilst others were lively and excited. Warming up was vital now that the speed and G’s were increasing; speeds can range from 95 to 105 KPH.

Over the following two days the majority of skeleton sliders became addicted to speed and wanted to achieve at least 110KpH. The competitiveness kicked in and on the last day of training, or should I say non-race day, everyone gave 110%, sprinting off the top and safely completing the two laufs. The natural sliders become apparent and some very promising novices, both Male and Female, were invited to attend the Army championships.

Ex RACING ICE 2

The venue for the 2017/18 Army Championships was Winterberg, Germany and was again at full capacity; the Army Skeleton Championships had 25 high quality athletes with a wide range of abilities. Sport for all is highly encouraged; a criteria for attending the Championships is to safely complete the Novice week and to be invited to attend. With a fine blend of novice, junior and senior sliders, the Championships were first Class.

The title for Army Champion was not easy to win as any error has a dramatic effect on a down time; Winterberg is a technical track and speeds of 125KPH can be reached! Fortunately an outside push track is available and many starts were practiced and perfected. The race can be won on a sliders start, so this kind of training is vital.

The Championships consisted of four training days and a race day. On the evening prior to race day a draw was conducted and sliders eagerly awaited the position in which they would start their first lauf. The condition of the ice can quickly deteriorate if the weather turns bad so everyone wanted to slide first but on the second run, the positions were reversed; the slowest started and the fastest were last. The race was a combination of times from the two laufs.

The male race this year was the most exciting yet as novices and junior sliders were definitely keeping the senior sliders on their toes. After the first run we had two novice sliders in the top five, one being Reservist soldier Sig Holmes, only a blink away from the seasoned slider LCpl Nathan Jackson and LCpl Ben McManus chasing them both. The second run was tense, start times were getting faster as Capt Giles Moon clearly wanted to retain his title of fastest start, which he did. Sig Holmes held his nerve, but with a slight error at the start became a respectable Runner up whilst LCpl Nathan Jackson finished with two high quality laufs and retained his title as ‘Army Champion’.

The quality within the Female race was again of the highest, with new novice and junior sliders keeping the more senior sliders aware that the race wasn’t won yet. On race day, experience paid off and the race was as close as ever between Capt Rhianon Graham and SSgt Nicky Moxon, who have been battling on race day for the past few seasons. This season Capt Graham led after the first lauf with a clear fastest start title that she retained and this continued to her final lauf as she took the Army Champion title for the first time.  Army skeleton had two novice females this season, 2Lt Sarah Batts and Sgt Amiee Kirwin, both demonstrated a vast amount of potential and were selected to be part of the Army Squad at the Inter Services.

With sliders giving it their all, selecting the Army Squad to go forward to Ex RACING ICE 3 and the Inter Services was a difficult task for Mr Stuart Hayden and SSgt Moxon. It is imperative that the right squad is chosen but after this decision the next hurdle is the availability of the selected sliders. Fortunately this wasn’t an issue this year so a big thank you to all the Chain of Commands for allowing their soldiers to compete.

Inter Service Championships

Ex RACING ICE 3 and the Inter Services were held at Igls, Austria with the Army Squad consisting of 13 sliders – 6 female and 7 male. The first week consisted of training laufs, many track walks and analysing notes. Igls is not the most technical track on the circuit but it is difficult to race. At the Inter Services the race is conducted over two days and consists of four Laufs, combined for each team athlete; an early error can be difficult to fix and races can be lost on the first run!

After a successful seven days of training, the difficult task of selecting the race team was on the shoulders of head coach Stu, SSgt Nicky Moxon, and Army Chairman Maj Tim Haskell. This season the opportunity was given to four novices amongst a nine strong team.

With the Winter Olympics coming to a close, the chance for the Male sliders to compete against the RAF Olympian Rhys Thornbury arose. This was an excellent experience for the team that they won’t forget. It was clear that Rhys would take the title as Inter Service Champion and lead the RAF to another victory, but this did not deter the other sliders. It was a tense team race, but the Navy couldn’t catch the Army and we achieved second place. The individual race was nail biting with LCpl Jackson achieving a respectable individual bronze against a RAF and future GB athlete.

The female team was selected with a mix of senior and novice sliders. Over the past years the RAF has dominated at the track in Igls but after the first day it was a close race, and the last day was certain to count. All sliders were within an inch of the title, it was not secure for anyone. Slight errors were made by all three services and places were swapping and changing until the end. The individual title was taken by Navy slider Illiana Veneti with Capt Rhiannon Graham narrowly missed out on bronze. The Army team didn’t retain the Championship title but achieved second place against the Navy.

Throughout the 2017/18 season, Army Skeleton has gone from strength to strength and experienced sliders now have the opportunity to become coaches alongside head coach Stu Hayden, this is vital to the success and development of the Army team. A bright future is evolving for Army Skeleton!

Interested athletes. Do you have fast reaction times, physical and mental strength and a sense of humour if it all goes wrong? Please contact SSgt Nicky Moxon at skeleton@awsa.org.uk