Reuters - Wed, 17 Feb 12:48:00 2010
Mellisa Hollingsworth will climb on board White Lightning and slide for gold when the Olympic skeleton competition begins on Thursday.
"I'm glad everyone thinks I'm going to win gold, I've been working for 15 years for this," the 29-year-old Canadian said as she prepared for four runs down a Whistler track that left her battered, bruised and scared out of her wits last year.
Alberta-born Hollingsworth, who describes herself as a "good old country girl" named her trusty sled after her favourite country and western song but something a little more high-tempo would be a more appropriate soundtrack to the four 85mph runs she hopes will launch her into the hearts of her nation.
"I learned a lot from the problems I had last year. It doesn't play on my mind now but the experience has given me a healthy respect for the track," said 2006 bronze medallist Hollingsworth. "White Lightning and me are ready!"
Of all the sliding events here, skeleton, seen as the poor relation compared to luge and bobsleigh because of a clumsy-looking sled shaped like a tea tray, offers the best chance of Canadian glory.
Hollingsworth and Amy Gough were quickest in training with Michelle Kelly not far behind but the Canadian trio will face tough competition from Swiss Maya Pedersen and Britain's Shelley Rudman who won gold and silver in 2006.
In the men's event Canadian veteran Jeff Pain is aiming to crown his career with an Olympic gold, the one major prize that has eluded him. At 39, he knows time is running out.
"The fact is the only thing I haven't won is an Olympic gold and an Olympic bronze so I may as well shoot for the top of the podium," said Pain, who was runner-up behind team mate Duff Gibson in Turin.
Canadian hopes in the luge were decimated after last Friday's fatal crash forced organisers to lower the start position - effectively wiping out much of the advantage of hundreds of training runs on the track over the past two years.
Skeleton, like bobsleigh, requires a run-up area so sliders in both the men's and women's competitions will face the full 1,450 metre track with its 16 stomach-churning corners.
While the risks are genuinely considered not quite as high as the feet-first luge, hurtling head-first down Whistler is a daunting prospect for the competitors.
"We're going to bounce and band around the track," Canada's Jon Montgomery, the fastest in Monday's training said. "I'm going to push it to the brink and hopefully not go ass over tea kettle down the track."
Montgomery will start as one of the favourites while Martins Dukurs, the overall World Cup champion this season, could win Latvia's first Winter Olympics gold medal.
Skeleton, which made its Olympic debut in St Moritz in 1928 but has not always been a regular event at Games, is being raced over four rounds for the first time.