LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — When the U.S. bobsled and luge teams start their competitive seasons this weekend, no one will be clinching any spots for the Sochi Olympics.
However, some may move quite a bit closer. And others may find their road to Sochi get considerably tougher.
Even though it doesn't look or feel anything like winter in Lake Placid — there's no snow anywhere and some people aren't seeing a need to wear light jackets yet — sliding season has arrived. Team trials are scheduled to start on Saturday for women's and two-man bobsledding on the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg, followed Sunday by the beginning of USA Luge's national championships and seeding races.
"This is significant," U.S. bobsled assistant coach Mike Kohn said. "Just getting out of the blocks and getting that head start, this is a very important weekend, I think, for the momentum and the confidence for each team."
Little will be officially decided this weekend. But for many sliders, these will be important steps on the way to becoming an Olympian.
"I'm excited to put up some numbers at the start and just kind of get it going," said U.S. women's bobsled push athlete Aja Evans. "It's almost like the longest Christmas Eve ever, like you kind of snuck in and saw what Santa's putting under the tree. Now I can't wait to get my presents on Christmas, but then Christmas doesn't come. I'm ready to get out there."
Sliding season started early in Lake Placid, with the track opening Oct. 1. Keeping it open has been difficult.
Warm temperatures, wind and rain have wreaked havoc on the ice, forcing the cancellation of many sessions and keeping most skeleton athletes off the ice for much of the last week. Skeleton's team trials will not begin until the teams arrive later this month in Park City, Utah.
"This time of year is tough with weather conditions," said USA Luge head coach and sport program director Mark Grimmette. "It's not easy to get fast ice. But the track crew is working day and night to give us the best conditions possible."
Luge's national championships end Oct. 20 in Park City. The U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams have a total of seven additional race sessions — including the entire four-man bobsled team trials series — between Oct. 20-30, both in Lake Placid and on the 2002 Olympic track in Park City.
For a small number of sliders, Saturday is little more than a dress rehearsal. In two-man bobsled, Steven Holcomb will be competing with brakeman Steve Langton, even though Holcomb already has a spot assured on the team based on past performance.
Nonetheless, they'll be out Saturday morning trying to throw down a time that no other American sled can catch.
"You don't want your first race to be your first race," Holcomb said. "Langton's going to be focused like it's race day. I'm going to be doing the same thing. Exact same warm-up, my team is nice enough to play along and go out early and take care of the sled. It'll be good to get going."
It's expected that the Olympic teams for bobsled, skeleton and luge will be known by mid-to-late December.