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|| News Item: Posted 2002-03-01

A New Olympic Sport?
By Rod Mar, The Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times
One of the best parts about covering an Olympics is the camaraderie that exists among the shooters.

At the end of any night, you can look around at your peers, and after the subject of "anyone up for a drink or a bite to eat?" comes, "what are you covering tomorrow?"

And the answer to that on any given day might be, "downhill", "ski-jumping", "speed-skating", or "aerials".

It's a good thing no one asked me the night before my most unusual assignment of the games.

I woke up before dawn to catch a media bus to park city, where we bribed a bus driver to drop us off at a resort called "the canyons" where I was the only photographer with a small group of reporters to cover....

Shovel racing.


Shovel racing, as in sliding down a hill with your butt on a shovel.

John Strader, a music promoter from Albuquerque is leading a movement to have shovel racing included as an Olympic sport.

And yes, he's serious, describing his sport as "the poor man's luge".
So serious that as he strips off his sweatshirt and jeans revealing a skintight blue speed suit covering his lumpy, 30-something body, he doesn't hear the laughs from the assembled international media.

His speedsuit is decorated with a spider web motif, just like Picabo Street's.

The only thing peeking on Strader though, is his ample gut, which he refers to as his "speed hump".

Standing there in speed suits and sunglasses, shovels in hand, he and friend gale boles look like a freakish version of "American gothic".

"Hey," he points out. "If curling and ice dancing can be Olympic sports, why not this?"

Um, good point.

When Strader mounts his shovel (bought from a hardware store in Albuquerque) and takes off down the hill, he looks like a luger.

Only slower and fatter.

There are different classes of shovel racing. "Production" refers to shovels bought straight from the hardware store. "Modified" refers to shovels that aren't really shovels, but soapbox derby looking vehicles on skis with a shovel blade on the bottom.

So what makes this a sport?

Two elements: speed and danger. Neither of which occurs in either curling or ice dancing.

Strader holds the unofficial world record at 72 mph. in comparison, skiers in the men's downhill reach the 80's.

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times
Remember Hermann Meier's horrific downhill crash at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano?

Well, at the X - Games in 1997, Strader broke his back in three places, after which, the sport was dropped.

Shovel racing has it's own governing body, it's own website, and it's own world championships.

Strader can't understand why no one from the International Olympic Committee or the U.S. Olympic Committee has returned calls regarding his quest. "Well, I guess they're pretty busy right now," he concedes.

So, as Strader trudges back up the hill, shovel in hand, he dreams of the day when his sport can take the world's stage at the Olympics.

Truth be told, he's not the only shovel racer in Utah.

Although it "officially never happened", course workers at the luge and bobsled runs at Olympic park, hint witha gleam in their eyes that perhaps shovel races have already taken place on official Olympic tracks.

Says one, hidden by a ski cap and sunglasses, "I won. Hit 60 mph. I mean, if it ever happened, that is", unable to suppress a grin.

The men who first created the Olympic winter games probably never thought of men in Lycra racing on shovels.

But they probably never imagined men in bowling shirts wielding brooms on their way to Olympic gold either.

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