20 September 2005

Bobsled dreams on display at 'push' event


BY DAVID AGREN/Special to The Herald Mexico

GUADALAJARA, Jalisco. Bobsled pilot Carlos Aranda, standing in a set position behind his sled's push bar at the top of the push track, yelled in a questioning tone, "Preparados (are you ready)?"

Brakeman Roberto Lauderdale responded, "Listo (ready)!" Then, with a mighty push, the pair,competing as Mexico I, charged down the 80meter run, stopping the clock at 4.09 seconds before Lauderdale slammed on the brakes.

Their exploits captured top spot on the first day of competition last weekend in "push," a form of bobsledding, which simulates the quick starts necessary for a good run. And, in a toogood-to-be-true story line, they won the race, dubbed the New Mix Cup, on their home track.

In an odd feat, Mexico hosted a winter sports championship – in a city that saw snow only once in the last century. Athletes from five countries converged on Guadalajara's Unidad Deportiva Revolucion, where the newly inaugurated push track drew high praise from athletes used to practicing on ice.

"I was pleasantly surprised," said Lyndon Rush, a Canadian pilot (bobsled driver), who placed third in the two-man event.

"It's not the same [as on ice], but it's totally good for training."

Although far from the center of the bobsledding universe, the Mexican team's stature has grown immensely in recent years, thanks to the efforts of three-time Olympian Roberto Tames, 41, who has pioneered the sport, growing it from minnow status to respectability.


Fellow competitors and bobsledding officials admire not only his persistence, but also his piloting skills.

"He's a good driver," Rush said. "He always makes it down the track safe."

Respect, though, came slowly for Tames. After the 1988 Calgary Games, the Jamaican team captured immense attention, inspiring the movie "Cool Runnings." But nowadays, Mexico, led by Tames who along with his three brothers finished ahead of the Jamaicans in 1988 outclasses its Caribbean rivals by a wide margin.

"Unfortunately, Jamaica has not been developing … they may not even have a sled on the World Cup circuit this year and therefore, not in the Olympics," said David Kurtz, vice president of international affairs for Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobaganning (FIBT).

"Roberto, because of his perseverance, has stayed with it," he added.

Tames' determination and dedication to the sport is legendary. Lacking cash and a sponsor, he drove a borrowed 1978 El Camino from Guadalajara to Calgary. Even though a tire blew out, the water pump quit and the heater didn't work, he arrived in time for an America's Cup race. The trip landed him on the front page of the Calgary Sun and several news organizations, including the Washington Post and the Associated Press, published features on Tames and his crew.

His passion for bobsledding, though, cost him his marriage. After retiring in the mid-1990s, his crew urged him to return, to his wife's displeasure. She gave him an ultimatum: bobsled or their marriage. He chose bobsled.

Tames and Roberto Lauderdale later competed in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games in the twoman event, besting only the U.S. Virgin Islands and Trinidad and Tobago for 35th place in the 37sled event.

Despite the low placing, Tames wanted another shot at the Olympics. He knew, however, he needed a better training facility. So he pitched the FIBT on bringing the world push championships to Guadalajara two years ago and succeeded.

"Roberto has exercised worldwide leadership," Kurtz said. "He's a real asset to the bobsled program in the world."

The Jalisco state government also stepped up, contributing 632,771 pesos (US60,000) towards building the push track in a gully shaded by tall trees in a Guadalajara park. The Guadalajara municipal government, FIBT and 12 corporate sponsors also provided funds and equipment.

Kurtz, the No. 2 person in the FIBT, ranked Guadalajara's push track as the best in the world.

"They have other push tracks in Split, Croatia, the Netherlands and in Germany and none of them compare to this facility," he said.

The competition, however, lacked many of the sport's powerhouse teams, making it a twocountry duel between Canada, an emerging power in bobsled, and Mexico.

"This is an Olympic year and you have coaches that are very, very nervous about sending their top athletes to Mexico, or anywhere really that's not in their strict program," Kurtz explained.

"When the rest of the athletes get their results and see what took place here, next time there's an event here it will be jam packed," he said.


For his part, Tames expressed satisfaction with the competition and his team's results.

"Mexico's level has increased. It's going to help us promote the sport and qualify for the Olympics," he said after leading his four-man team to a second place finish 0.11 seconds behind Canada. In their last showdown, the Canadians won by 0.30 seconds and also bested Mexico in the two-man event.

"Having this track has really helped us," he said.

Carlos Aranda, who teaches kindergarten when not training and competing, echoed Tames' sentiments, adding after capturing the Saturday event, "The truth is we thought we could win because we've been training a lot.

"The Canadians are physically imposing … but fortunately we were in our house and we did our best to win."

The next day, in a tense showdown for the world push championship title, Aranda and Lauderdale needed to beat the Canadians' time of 4.14. Despite their best efforts, they fell short by a mere one-hundredth of a second.

"Almost," Aranda said after finishing the run. "We'll win next time."

The Mexican team departs in October for training sessions with the Russian team, before embarking on the World Cup season.

Despite receiving a favorable prediction from Kurtz, who said Mexico could threaten for a spot in the top 10 in the upcoming Turin Games, Aranda's goals are somewhat modest.

"My main goal is to qualify," he said, adding US40,000 in sponsorship money would allow the team to better prepare.

"For a country like us, it's difficult to qualify mainly because we don't have the economic resources to go to as many competitions as we want to.

"But we're putting our hearts into making it."

From the Miami Herald, Mexico Edition.

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