February 17, 2006
'I thought it was over'
Wife of saddle bronc rider gets bucked off in skeleton, but still wins bronze
TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

CESANA PARIOL, Italy -- Now she knows what it feels like to be bucked off.

Her husband has to ride his professional rodeo saddle broncs for only eight seconds but Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards had to ride her Olympic one out for two minutes.

Difference is, after she got bucked off, she won - in this case, a bronze medal. That doesn't happen in rodeo.

After making it to the podium in every single World Cup event this year, the skeleton competitor from Eckville was convinced she'd finished her Olympics in fourth yesterday.

"I honestly thought it was over," she said. "When I saw my time flash up, I thought 'Oh great! Fourth! I'd rather finish last than fourth.' Every athlete I know thinks the worst place to finish is fourth."

The cowgirl, who grew up wanting to be a barrel racer, ended up over a barrel.

But the 25-year-old, who ended up marrying saddle bronc rider Billy Richards, became the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in her sport at the big bobsled track about 90 kilometres outside of Turin.

And she definitely did it the hard way. Before she tasted the thrill of victory, she experienced the agony of defeat.

"All within two minutes," she said.

"I went through a wide range of emotions.

"I went through heartbreak," she said of completing her second run and seeing "2" come up on the scoreboard.

With two racers to go, 2 + 2 = fourth.

The two racers left to go had finished one-two ahead of her in the first trip down the 19-turn track.

When she didn't see "1" come up, that meant Shelley Rudman had secured a rare Winter Olympic medal for Great Britain. And now Hollingsworth-Richards had to cheer for Diana Sartor of Germany to go slow.

She knew it wasn't going to be Maya Pederson of Switzerland, who had won the right to be the last slider down the track with a run 0.75 seconds faster than her own in the first go-round.

Between the two of them, Peterson and Hollingsworth-Richards had won six of the seven World Cup races this season. Peterson had won four to her two. No, it had to be the German to falter worse than she had.

When Sartor finished her run, the scoreboard showed Hollingsworth-Richards ahead and heading to downtown Turin today to be presented with a bronze medal.

"I knew I'd lost my spot and I knew I had to sit and wait. It was a little bit of heartbreak and then, a minute later, I was on top of the world again.

"I thought I'd lost it. I thought I'd gone seven-for-seven on the podium then fell off the Olympic one. But this is eight for eight and this is great."

This is a woman who had been in the sport for 10 years and made it to a podium only three times previous to this year. She hadn't once been on top of it until the season started in Calgary and then, for the first time, Europe at the stop in Konigissee after Christmas. If there was ever a way to make a bronze medal feel like a gold, this was the way. When she stood on the flower podium, a tear trickled down her left cheek.

"I'm just so happy," she said.

"It was such a tough day. I didn't have the runs I wanted. I hit the wall a couple times on that first run, I can't even remember where. To be third after the first run and then to look like you lost a spot ..."

Hollingsworth-Richards began a list of thankyous' including sponsors, coaches and ending with "and everybody in Eckville."

She had 14 family and friends here and they created about 20% of the crowd - officially announced at 1,638, but obviously they were counting fingers and toes.

The tear on the podium, she said, came when she focused on her family.

"They weren't hard to pick out, especially my dad and Billy. They were both wearing black cowboy hats," she said.

Hollingsworth-Richards met the media wearing her Canadian podium outfit.

Like Jenn Heil, who hails from about 100 km north of Eckville in west-central Alberta, Hollingsworth-Richards refused to try on the outfit before she earned the right to wear it.

"I'm just looking forward to going down to Turin," she said of escaping the sewage, food and disappointing conditions in the Sestriere athletes village.

"I'm just looking forward to breathing again. I took a deep breath after I knew I'd won the bronze. It seemed like I'd been holding my breath in forever."