B y Derek Liebig
The second half of Ryan Sweeney’s season is off to a much better start than the first half.
Sweeney, a member of the United States Skeleton Developmental team, was recently selected to compete in the Europa Cup and embarked Sunday on a two-week sojourn that will take him to the “birthplace of sliding sports.”
“I was beyond ecstatic. I felt like a little kid who got the one thing they really wanted for Christmas. I tried to keep my composure, but inside I was jumping around,” Sweeney said.
The opportunity to compete on the Europa Cup came as a bit of surprise for Sweeney, who described the beginning of the sliding season as a “struggle.”
“I had bought a new sled and made the decision to slide on it for the first time during this year’s team trials. Every run I had down the track—good or bad—was slow and I honestly did not know if was equipment or driver issues,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney finished near the bottom of the team trial races in Lake Placid and was looking forward to a change of venue. But when the team trials shifted to Park City, Utah, Sweeney’s disillusionment grew when his times continued to lag behind.
“I knew the new sled would handle different, but even with good runs I wasn’t going fast. I talked to my coaches and neither they nor I knew what was going on, or what to do,” Sweeney said.
With several disappointing finishes in U.S. team trials, Sweeney was left off the men’s national team.
Disappointed, but not defeated, Sweeney returned to Lake Placid intent on improving his times. He took a handful of runs on his new sled and his times continued to lag behind. Hoping to determine if it was himself of his sled contributing to the down times, Sweeney also took several runs on his old sled. He took two runs down the track and despite a handful of technical mistakes, his times were nearly a second faster, an eternity in a sport decided by hundredths and thousandths of a second.
“It was a huge relief to know it wasn’t me, but the sled,” Sweeney said, adding that he still doesn’t know why his new sled was so slow.
Returning to the sled he has used for three years, Sweeney continued to clock faster times, even posting his fastest time ever at the Mount Van Hoevenberg track and besting the ties set by some athletes that made the national team.
“I regret not sliding on the old sled during team trials, but we learn from our mistakes,” Sweeney wrote.
His improvement, however, was not enough to earn him a spot in the final two North American Cup races this month in Lake Placid and he began planning the next nine months of work and training.
“I had it all figured out. I let my bosses and coaches know my plans, and then the next day it all changed,” Sweeney wrote.
Last month, Sweeney received an email from his coaches offering him the opportunity to compete in the Europa Cup, which he described as the “third tier of tours,” after World Cup and Intercontinental Cup and just ahead of the North America Cup. Although he had a number of logisitics to work out, Sweeney jumped at the opportunity.
“Racing on the Europa Cup allows me to race internationally, to earn points in a world ranking scale and also a U.S. Ranking, and if I do well enough and earn enough points I can guarantee myself a spot un next year’s team trails. More importantly this tour allows me to slide and race on two new tracks, which gives me more experience to be more competitive on these other tracks throughout the world.”
Sweeney left for Europe on Sunday—after spending several hours delayed at Washington-Dulles airport—and in the next few weeks will race in Konigssee, Germany, and St. Moritz, Switzeland. The tracks are two of the oldest in Europe and Sweeney said the track in St. Mortiz is the only all natural track in the world and is considered the “birthplace of sliding sports.”
Sweeney, who hopes to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team, is taking this year in stride.
“I’m very grateful to have this opportunity,” Sweeney wrote on his blog, “Pushing the edge, face-first.” “I can honestly say that this season started out very bumpy, but as one of my coaches recently posted, ‘Things turn out best, for those who make the best of the way things turn out.’”