Alberta racer Mellisa Hollingsworth a favourite to win skeleton gold
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.”