Skeleton crew's financial Pains softened

TODD SAELHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

Typically, Canada's skeleton crew is among the best on the planet.

But when the nation's marquee sliding team is termed a skeleton crew because it's shorthanded during the season, then the status of contending for the sport's elite medals takes a downward turn.

Such was the issue last winter for Canada's top athletes on the track, as commitment in a post-Olympic year -- as is often the case with amateur athletics -- took a tumble.

However, skeleton star Jeff Pain isn't expecting the lack of dedication to spill over into the 2007-08 sliding campaign.

Instead, it's all systems go for the national team, especially with the 2010 Winter Olympics on home soil in full view.

"We had a pretty dismal world championships last year," said Pain, during Friday's Day At The Track festivities to introduce this season's national luge, bobsleigh and skeleton teams at Canada Olympic Park.

"Because it was the year after the Olympics, people took personal time off. For me, I took time off to be with family -- with my wife Aly and my kids (Thomas, 4, and Kyle, 6).

"But now I'm on the full ramp-up to Whistler. With that 2010 carrot being there, my family and I have agreed it's a worthwhile investment and struggle."

Pain, the silver medalist in 2006 Torino, is coming off a season that saw him participate part-time.

The same goes for teammate and fellow gold-medal contender Paul Boehm.

And among Canada's top female skeleton threats, Mellisa Hollingsworth is back this year after taking last winter off entirely.

Of those athletes comprising the luge and bobsleigh teams, only luger Regan Lauscher took time off and worked a condensed season.

"With our inclusion on World Cup teams, overall, I think it's going to be a strong year," said Pain of returning a full skeleton squad, with the exception of retired 2006 gold-medalist Duff Gibson. "And we'll continue to improve through to 2010."

For the 36-year-old Pain, now the veteran leader of the skeleton team, the aim in Whistler is, of course, gold.

"I was a spectator in Salt Lake City and finished sixth," said Pain, only half-joking of a performance he'd rather forget.

"And I was second in Torino. So there's really only one desirable goal for me.

"What more can I say?"

Come Whistler, he hopes he can talk up a better start to his runs -- an aspect of his game he knows he must improve to be fractionally faster to claim Olympic gold. Then there's the continuous need for the best equipment money can buy, which is always an ongoing struggle for Canada's amateur athletes.

But that's where Friday's Day At The Track produced the most excitement, as Dow Chemical Canada Inc. poured much-needed dollars into CODA's coffers.

"We are delighted to support Canada's bobsleigh, skeleton and luge athletes," said Dow president Jeff Johnston. "Through this exciting partnership, we are committed to providing Canada's top sliding athletes with the resources they need to win now and well into the future."


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