Canada’s Olympic skeleton racer Melissa Hollingsworth has had a volatile career, make no bones about it.
The newly-crowned skeleton world champion nearly quit the sport when she failed to make the 2002 Olympic team. And she has had to overcome what normal people might consider a quite reasonable fear of the Whistler Olympic track.
But for the 29-year-old Eckville, AB, native, the ultimate high is racing on home soil with her sled, White Lightning.
“With all of the battles I’ve had on the Whistler track, crashes, stitches, broken sled and a concussion; the only way I overcame it was to put everything aside and focus on White Lightening, the Whistler track and myself,” she said in her personal blog, Melissa’s Diary.
Leading up the Games in Torino, Italy, Hollingsworth was on an incredible winning streak — kicking off the season by taking her first World Cup event in 10 years of racing and becoming the only individual in the history of the sport to never place out of top three for the rest of the season.
When Hollingsworth slid into a historical bronze medal finish in Torino she became the first Canadian ever to medal in the sport. But her goal has yet to be achieved — winning gold at home.
Hollingsworth and her family have speed in their blood, having grown up in the rodeo ring with their horses. She was first introduced to skeleton by her cousin and two-time World Champion, Ryan Davenport.
“Every day after school I would always go out to the big hill behind our house and ‘crazy carpet’ till dark,” Hollingsworth told CBC Sports.
The “crazy carpet” is nothing more than a thin piece of plastic children use to separate their bodies from the bumpy snow. But now, Hollingsworth has replaced the crazy carpet with a sled that can reach speeds of 140 km/hr.
“I just liked the crazy carpet,” she laughed. “I hated the GT snow racers. … it was just comfortable for me to be going headfirst on my stomach.”
For Hollingsworth, winning that coveted gold medal will come down to mind over matter.
“When I stand on the line ultimately it is me, my sled and the track and nothing else matters,” Hollingsworth said. “Yes I can draw on positivity to help me, but anything negative will have to wait until tomorrow. Sickness, injury, personal problems, it can all wait until tomorrow. This is the life and the mindset of an athlete.”
Although Austrians, Germans and the Swiss have traditionally dominated Skeleton, Canadian racers proved they were a force to reckoned with in Italy after Duff Gibson took home a gold medal, Jeff Pain claimed silver, Paul Boehm slid into fourth place and Hollingsworth snatched up a bronze medal.
Hollingsworth will have her work cut out for her in Vancouver when she goes up against her “friendly rival” Great Britain’s Shelley Rudman, and Germany’s Kerstin Szymkowiak, who finished second and third respectively in World Cup standings.
Canada’s Amy Gough, who placed ninth in the world, and Michelle Kelly, who claimed the 13th spot will also be competing on the Whistler run in February.
For the men, Canada’s hopes lie with Jon Montgomery, who sits in fifth spot in the World Cup standings. Teammates Jeff Pain and Michael Douglas, who are 10th and 11th respectively in the world, will also be hoping for a podium finish on home soil against the strong German and Latvian competitors.