Pain eyes the lead

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

After 1,400 trips down the Canada Olympic Park track, Calgary's Jeff Pain reckons he could do it with his eyes closed. Yesterday, with eyes wide open, Pain grabbed the lead after the first two of four runs in the skeleton world championships at COP.

Pain posted a two-run combined time of one minute 52.70 seconds, seven-hundredths ahead of Switzerland's Gregor Staehli.

Staehli boasts the best start on the World Cup circuit, while Pain, who set a track record of 56.08 on his first trip, is notoriously slow at the top but makes up for it with his smooth sliding.

And yesterday Pain, 34, said he wasn't physically at his best, so he'll take the result.

"The slow start makes it a lot harder on me. I need to be better down the hill than everybody else. Like I said, today I wasn't sharp physically, so I need to definitely get faster tomorrow and, if I do, I'll be OK," said the overall World Cup champion, adding when he retires, he'd like to take a trip down with his eyes shut.

Pain, the 2003 world champ, is also using a new sliding philosophy where he's no longer visualizing the run before he goes down.

"I just let my body take over and it knows what to do," Pain said.

Calgary firefighter Duff Gibson, the defending world champion, is third with a time of 1:53.03.

Another Calgarian, Paul Boehm, was fifth heading into the second run but then disaster struck. Boehm lost his balance while running at the start, stepped on his sled and went down in a heap.

He managed to get properly onto the sled and finish his run but wound up 27th.

In the women's competition, Michelle Kelly -- a product of Fort St. John, B.C., who lives in Calgary -- put herself into medal contention, sitting in third after the first two runs with a time of 1:56.87.

Switzerland's Maya Pedersen leads with 1:56.71, followed by American Noelle Pikus-Pace (1:56.77).

It's been a terrible campaign for Kelly with injuries and dealing with the death of her stepfather, Randy Blatz, so the affable slider figured she'd just go out, have fun and see what happens.

"There's two more runs and I like to come from behind," said the 30-year-old, who failed to reach the podium this season for the first time in the past three years.

"It works for me and there's no pressure on me this weekend -- this tops anything I've done all year and I'm thrilled with my starts."

Calgarian Lindsay Alcock had a brutal first run after crashing hard into the left wall coming out of Kreisel.

She was high leaving the 360-degree turn and found herself sitting ninth before the second run.

Alcock still managed to make up two spots and sits seventh overall heading into the final two runs today.

Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., is ninth.

The final men's and women's runs start today at 9 a.m.


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