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Great America’s Goliath opens to severe weather, rave reviews

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Updated: July 21, 2014 3:13PM



After delays that were blamed on a cold and snowy construction season, it made perfect sense that the unveiling of Goliath at Six Flags Great America would collide with Mother Nature one more time.

“We’ve got a storm coming in, so let’s see if we can get some people up on the ride really quickly,” theme park president Hank Salemi said just before 10 a.m. Wednesday, as a thunderstorm rolled in from the west.

“Hopefully, the weather will hold off,” Salemi told a group of some 200 people gathered for a ribbon cutting under boiling clouds. “There is some lightning in the area that we’re watching very closely. Of course, we will not put anybody on the ride in that kind of weather.”

On top of that, a wheel malfunction earlier in the morning hit the brakes on early-bird rides. Salemi told the crowd that “Goliath did have a wheel issue. It happens a lot on roller coasters. All of that’s been repaired, and we’re ready to get started again.”

As it turned out, a carload of performers dressed as Roman centurions managed to complete one lap on the 3,100 feet of track before a bolt of lightning on the horizon shut down the fun. Media members and other invited guests scrambled for cover as rain began to fall sideways, putting the ride’s debut party on hold for more than an hour.

At 11:15 a.m., an announcement came over the loudspeakers that was greeted with roaring applause: “Ladies and gentlemen, Goliath is back in operation.”

So after being pushed back from projected openings on Memorial Day weekend and May 31 and then the twin delays on Wednesday, the question was asked over and over as riders emerged from the station: How is Goliath?

“It was great. The anticipation before that first drop was a little scary. It took my hunger away. Then I had to close my eyes on the way down,” said 19-year-old Josue Pasillas of Waukegan. “And then a wooden roller coaster going upside down was a little interesting.”

Asked to compare the 185-foot drop and 85-degree vertical angle on Goliath to Great America’s 200-foot-tall Raging Bull, Pasillas said “the drops are similar, but I think (Goliath) is a lot more intense.”

Ed Mrowiec of Chicago said Goliath provided an “awesome ride” but he was among those aboard for the blown-out wheel.

“One of the wheels on the last car disintegrated as we were going through one of the inversions,” said Mrowiec, who rode with fellow Chicagoan Mike Pompa. “Polyurethane pieces were coming off and kind of hitting us a little bit.

“Besides that, amazing ride,” Pompa added. “The air time is amazing, the inversions are just absolutely amazing. Definitely the best ride in the park now.”

The experience is enhanced by an absence of shoulder harnesses. A combination lap bar and leg clamp hold riders in place during extreme movements, including two inversions that endure longer than the usual twists on coasters.

At around 90 seconds, Goliath doesn’t provide a lengthy tour of its compact grounds, but it packs multiple thrills into its brief run and has been called remarkably smooth for a wooden coaster. Along with the inversions, the highlights include a feeling of falling forward as the train slips into the 85-degree drop.

About an hour after the coaster was back in play, Salemi was asked if the wheel trouble was expected to be an issue as Goliath embarks on daily operation this week.

“It’s not an ongoing concern. It’s something that happens on coasters all the time,” Salemi said. “When you run a number of cycles over and over and over like we do every day, there are times when we have to replace the wheels. It’s just like a race car or your car at home.

“You get so much friction and so much heat on those wheels, it’s a general maintenance concern,” he added. “It happens a lot out in our park, actually. It’s something that happens a good bit. (People) just don’t notice it because we get them replaced really quickly and get it right back up.”

As for the weather that has seemingly plagued Goliath, Salemi said, “you know, I learned a long time ago there are a lot of things in this business you can control, but weather’s not one of them. You just kind of roll with the punches.”

Following Wednesday’s media preview, Goliath is scheduled to open to the general public at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, June 19.



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