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Controversy in, you guessed it, skeleton

February 11, 2010 | 10:57 am

Skeleton What would an Olympics be without a controversy in the sliding sports?

For such relatively tiny sports that joined the Winter Games fairly recently, luge, a 1964 arrival, and skeleton, a 2002 addition, always manage to gin up a good headline or two. For some reason, bobsled -- in all three of its configurations -- has managed to keep a low profile in recent years, the exception being the messy and public breakup of the U.S. women’s team and best friends forever Jean Racine and Jen Davidson two months before the 2002 Winter Games.

This Olympics is no different, as Canadian slider Jeff Pain raised eyebrows Wednesday when he claimed that Germany’s skeleton team was cheating by using “a magnetic component” on its sleds. Pain, the 2006 silver medalist who is ranked 10th in the world, could not explain what the component was or where it was, but he insisted it made the Germans faster.

During this season’s eight-race World Cup circuit, the German men scored two wins, five second-place finishes and two thirds. FIBT, the international federation with “supreme authority” over skeleton and bobsled, has not found anything amiss with the German sleds but said it would look into Pain’s claim.

Also in the run-up to the Games, the Canadians caused a minor scene when they seemingly reneged on a handshake deal with USA Luge that would have allowed the American sliders the same access at the Whistler track that the Canadians had in 2002 at the Park City, Utah, track.

When it comes to drama, it seems, luge and skeleton are just figure skating in speed suits. Here’s five of the best sliding controversies:

--Three East German women were disqualified in 1968 for illegally heating the runners of their sleds to make them go faster.

--With Austrian women holding the top three spots after two runs at the 1992 Olympics, coaches from other teams lodged a formal complaint charging that the leaders were trafficking in illegal booties that made their toes point inward in a more aerodynamic way. The protest was denied, and the Austrians retained the top two podium spots.

--While on his way to a third consecutive gold medal, Germany’s Georg Hackl raised the hackles of U.S. and Canadian coaches in 1998, when he showed up wearing yellow booties that helped him stay pointed in the right direction. Protest denied.

--Eventual 2002 gold medalist Tristan Gale almost didn’t make the U.S. team, when she was disqualified from racing because she had a foreign substance on the runners of her sled: her name in felt-tip marker. The bad mark apparently was not indelible because Gale became one of the 10 Americans to stand atop the podium in Salt Lake City.

--Finally, five-time Olympian Anne “Grandma Luge” Abernathy from the U.S. Virgin Islands, who was forced to withdraw from her sixth and final Winter Games in 2006 with a broken wrist, is not a grandma after all.

-- Candus Thomson in Whistler