January 28, 2006
Skeleton in the closet!
Canada's medal hopes boosted
TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

There's a skeleton in Canada's closet.

And skeleton may be chef de mission Shane Pearsall's hole card to accomplish the goal of winning 25 medals for Canada at the Turin Olympic Winter Games.

Two Alberta skeleton competitors won world championships in the last 48 hours to take with them to the Olympics.

Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards, the Eckville woman married to a rodeo cowboy, clinched her title Thursday and Calgary's Jeff Pain won gold yesterday to make it two for the show in Torino.

"Bobsleigh-skeleton are knocking it out of the park,'' said Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

"These athletes have really ramped it up this season,'' said Pearsall, executive director of Bobsleigh-Skeleton when he's not Canada's chef de mission in Turin.

Canada has never won a skeleton medal at the Olympics. To have Hollingsworth-Richards and Pain make it a world championship sweep back-to-back gives Canada medal hopes in every event at the facility other than luge.

Canada has only two bobsled medals in history at the Olympics, the most recent being Pierre Lueders' two-man gold in Nagano '98. But Lueders, who competes in the final event going into Turin today and tomorrow in Altenberg, Germany, won both two-man and four-man events at the same competition two weeks ago and made it back to the podium in the four-man last weekend in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where Helen Upperton won her first World Cup women's bobsled race for Canada. They're hot.

"It's great to see Pierre doing well, to see Helen doing well and to see Mellisa doing well,'' said Pain yesterday.

"It's not that there's a thing going on here where it's all rubbing off on each other, though. We all train different times, stay at different hotels, arrive at different days and leave on different days. We kind of leap-frog each other.''

Pain said he doesn't think he made any statement by putting the world championship away before the Olympics.

"It's all about being good on the right day on the right year,'' he said. "But it's a nice way to enter the Games, with a couple of wins and momentum.''

For Pain it's two world titles in a row. He won the world championship last year as well.

"It feels fantastic to do it twice in a row,'' said Pain, who made it a Canadian sweep of the Olympic quadrennial with Pain winning in 2003 and Duff Gibson winning in 2004.

While Pain won his title with a gold, Hollingsworth-Richards did it with a bronze. It was her seventh medal in seven World Cup events so far this season.

While Hollingsworth-Richards is the world champion, she says she doesn't feel pressure going into Turin to be the gold medal winner.

"I feel very excited to be going into my first Olympics as the No. 1 ranked woman in the world but I certainly didn't go into the season seeing myself that way.

"I had great expectations going into the season but I never expected to be the world champion. I still feel I have so much to work on, so much to improve.''

So why is this happening now?

"The 'Own The Podium' extra dollars have really made a difference,'' said Pearsall of the support staff, the living and travelling conditions, etc. "There's no comparison to the financial crunch which existed when I got here.

"And having the Ice House in Calgary is really starting to pay off ... The most important part of both sports are the starts and you can do them 10 or 12 times a day in the Ice House,'' he said of the unique training facility in Calgary.