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Crash concerns still dogging Olympic track

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Bobsledders are learning the Olympic sliding track is tough to tame, even for the world's best.

At least 11 two-man bobsleds have spilled sideways in the first two days of training at the Vancouver Games, with two athletes — including a legitimate gold-medal favorite — possibly knocked out of the competition before it even begins this weekend.

Spills are common in bobsledding, but since these topples come less than a week after the death of a Georgian men's luge athlete in a high-speed training wreck, speed and safety have once again been thrust into the forefront at the Olympic track.

"I've just crashed once here," Canadian bobsled pilot Lyndon Rush said. "But I've come really close — lots."

Meanwhile, bobsled's international governing body said Thursday it would offer women's and four-man bobsledders extra training runs on the lightning-fast track, "out of an abundance of caution."

"The FIBT has had the opportunity to gain more track time," international federation president Robert Storey said.

Some clearly could use it.

Beat Hefti, this season's World Cup two-man overall champion, missed training Thursday with a headache after crashing on his first practice run the previous night. Hefti was checked out at a hospital for bruises on his head and body, as well as cuts on one of his legs, Switzerland team officials said in a release. He'll need medical clearance — plus clean runs on Friday — in order to race this weekend.

"His coach said he's going to train (Friday)," said International Federation of Bobsled and Tobogganing spokesman Don Krone.

Also Wednesday, Australian push athlete Duncan Harvey was briefly hospitalized complaining of sharp back pain after another crash, and doctors eventually decided to hold him out of Thursday's training for precautionary reasons.

Harvey was not seriously injured; he even walked the short distance back to the athletes' village from the medical center in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

"Seeing him this morning was kind of nasty," said Chris Spring, the driver of the sled that wrecked with Harvey aboard.

Late Thursday night, at the midway point of the men's and women's skeleton competitions — both of which were incident-free on Day 1 — the FIBT issued another statement reiterating "strong support" of the track and saying it was "disputing media accounts that attack the facility."

"The FIBT would like to make it absolutely clear that it remains confident in the safety of the track," Storey said.

Eight crashes came Wednesday, including one where a sled flipped back and finished upright. Another three came Thursday, with a Japanese sled skipping its second practice run after wrecking.

No serious injuries were reported Thursday.

Bobsled and skeleton uses the same track where Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili suffered fatal injuries when he lost control of his luge sled and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 90 mph.

"We're all family," USA-1 bobsled pilot Steven Holcomb said. "It's unnecessary. It's kind of a fluke thing. I know they were saying he's an inexperienced pilot or whatever, but still, it shouldn't have happened. It's unfortunate. At the same time, we have to go out there and do our job. We know he was giving it everything he had, so that's what we're going to do."

Other than the speed, there's little comparison between the handling of a luge and a bobsled, but Kumaritashvili remains on the mind of every slider in Whistler — along with international luge officials, who released a statement Thursday saying they would "gather all needed information to be able to properly review the events and determine how best to move forward."

There's one two-man bobsled already out of the Olympics, although not for injury-related reasons.

Latvian officials said Thursday that the sled driven by Janis Minins will not race in competition Saturday and Sunday, after he needed emergency surgery late last week to remove his appendix.

Minins' status for the four-man race will be reevaluated in "four or five days," Latvian press secretary Marita Vilcina said.

International officials have been questioned about the setup of the track for months. After Kumaritashvili's death luge organizers moved the start of all men's, women's and doubles races lower down the track in an effort to keep racers from reaching the sort of speeds recorded in training.

In bobsled and skeleton, that's not really feasible, since athletes need long, relatively flat start ramps to push sleds from.

"This is not an easy track," Rush said. "But it's not the hardest track either."

The memorial site for Kumaritashvili memorial has grown a bit in recent days at the track, yellow flowers and photos continuing to adorn the pole that he sailed into during his fatal wreck.

It's a grim reminder.

"You would have to be real cold not to feel anything," Rush said.

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AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed from Whistler.