Al­berta racer Mel­lisa Hollingsworth a favourite to win skele­ton gold

Cape Breton Post - - CLASSIFIED - BY DEAN BEN­NETT

ing school at Canada Olympic Park in nearby Cal­gary. He was part coach and part evan­ge­list, spread­ing the word of the ob­scure sport that had not been part of the Olympics for half a cen­tury and wouldn’t be again un­til 2002.

Few ath­letes around the world were even try­ing it at that time, he re­calls, but he said Mel­lisa was game.

She re­mem­bers stand­ing at the top of the ice slide looking down, way down, won­der­ing what the heck she’d got her­self into.

Start at the top! Daven­port told her.

No way! She wanted to start part way down.

You had to won­der if she was go­ing to stick with it or not,” he says. But once she got off from the top, she re­al­ized it was a lot of fun and not im­mi­nent death.”

Hollingsworth was hooked on the speed and adrenalin rush of a sport that got its name from early sleds that re­sem­bled skele­tons.

Slid­ers roar down the track on their stom­achs on fi­bre­glass sleds over steel run­ners. Arms at their sides, they twist shoul­ders and legs to steer. Chin and toes are mil­lime­tres from the ice as a blue-white world hur­tles past. Take the wrong line and G forces ham­mer the sled; the steel run­ners howl as they dig in to fight back, bring­ing the tell­tale roar of pre­cious hun­dredths of a sec­ond bleed­ing away — the sound separat­ing win­ners from losers.

Hollingsworth was strong, but wasn’t a star. The hell-bent Krazy Kar­pet kid was gone, re­placed by a tech­ni­cian who ran clean lines and dragged her toes, never flam­ing out but hardly ever winning.

She was des­tined to make the 2002 Olympic team in Salt Lake, only to be usurped by hard-charg­ing team­mate Lind­say Al­cock.

Darcy Hollingsworth picked up his daugh­ter from the air­port.

She was heart­bro­ken. She talked and just kind of poured her heart out,” he re­calls. It was a long ride home.”

There were some medals, but also a lot of eighth-place fin­ishes.

The turn­ing point was Fe­bru­ary 2005 at the World Cham­pi­onships on her home track in Cal­gary. Mel­lisa the Care­ful fin­ished 10th to the dis­may of fam­ily and friends. I got mad. I got an­gry,” she says. It was time to get back on the Krazy Kar­pet. To hell with the pretty lines. Let’s get to the podium.

In the first race in the fall of 2005, she won it all — again in Cal­gary — to launch a dream sea­son that saw her never miss the podium on the World Cup cir­cuit and then win bronze in Turin.

She won in Cal­gary de­spite slid­ing blind. She had a new hood for that sea­son, which was ac­tu­ally longer than what she thought.

When she put her hel­met on and pushed off down the track the hood slid over one eye at Turn 4 and kept inch­ing, down, down.

By the time I was go­ing through cor­ner 10 I couldn’t see any­thing. I just thought ‘This is how it is. Just let it go,”’ she re­calls.

She won the race and had seen the light: It was a re­al­iza­tion that I can rely on my in­stincts, I could feel my way down the track.”

She ar­rived in Turin on a high, 14 fam­ily mem­bers and friends along for the ride.

But on the train­ing run be­fore com­pe­ti­tion, she fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing 11th. Pres­sure hit her like a punch in the gut.

The re­al­ity set in that it’s the Olympics and any­thing can hap­pen.”

On race day, it ap­peared the worst would come true. A poor fi­nal run put her in sec­ond with two slid­ers to go. It looked like a fourth-place fin­ish and no medal.

Van­cou­ver flashed be­fore my eyes,” said Hollingsworth. I wasn’t sure I had enough in me to go an­other four years.”

But when Ger­man slider Diana Sar­tor also strug­gled on the way down, the bronze came back.

To be on the podium and watch the Maple Leaf ( flag) rise and have my fam­ily front and cen­tre, it was def­i­nitely worth all the heartache.”

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