WHISTLER, British Columbia — For American Bree Schaaf, every run down the precipitous bobsled track at Whistler Sliding Centre is an education. Unfortunately, the teacher — that blazing-fast track — believes in corporal punishment.
Schaaf and brakeman Emily Azevedo were tied for sixth place with teammates Shauna Rohbock and Michelle Rzepka after the first two of four runs in the women's Olympic bobsled competition.
Their combined time of 1 minute, 47.09 seconds is .89 seconds behind the leaders.
USA-2, with driver Erin Pac and brakeman Elana Meyers, was a surprising second after the initial runs.
Competition concludes with two more runs Wednesday evening.
Schaaf, of Bremerton, Wash., got the same punishment as most other sliders here Tuesday night, at times careening down the course like a marble in a rain gutter, taking more blows than bobsleds were designed to absorb. Two crewmen in one sled slammed into the sides of the track so hard that the plastic facemasks were blasted off their helmets.
"It was not awesome," said Schaaf, the driver of USA-3. "Our first run, especially."
Schaaf's sled took some hits the first time down the track, leaving her and Azevedo eighth. They moved up after the second run, which was faster, but didn't feel a lot smoother, Schaaf said.
"The second run was still very hairy, but somehow we went faster," she said.
The track, even under snowy conditions, was running a full second faster than during training runs, Schaaf said.
The day ended with the No. 1 Canadian sled, driven by Kaillie Humphries, atop the leaderboard, with a .13-second lead over Pac's sled.
Pac had been plagued by a sore hamstring and other maladies during training over the weekend, but put together two solid runs Tuesday night.
"Two more runs — that's all I'm focusing on," she said.
All U.S. sliders took a day off from training Monday, mostly to give brakemen a chance to rest. It might have helped Pac heal, but apparently didn't help Schaaf or Rohbock.
"Not good," Rohbock said. "I've been struggling all week."
Some changes were made to curve 11 on Monday to accommodate men's four man sleds, which have begun training, but they might have been "placebo changes," because it felt largely the same, Schaaf said.
Schaaf's USA-3 and Rohbock's USA-1 remain within striking distance for a medal in the final two runs. They're .49 behind the third-place sled, Germany 2.
"We'll talk about it with the coaches and see if we can find that lovin' feeling," said Schaaf, who was cheered on by a large contingent of hometown fans in the finish area, with a sign reading, "Slide On, Bree!"