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Steele Aussies have head in the game

4 February 2014

SLIDING SPORTS: On the side of a stunning mountain above Rosa Khutor village one hour north of Sochi sits the stunning Sanki Sliding Centre. This is where Australia’s fearless sliders from Bobsleigh, Skeleton and Luge will challenge the world’s best at Sochi 2014.

Despite not having a facility like it in the whole of the southern hemisphere Australia’s seasoned campaigners are ready to turn heads. 

Fresh off the plane last night, Skeleton competitor Michelle Steele has arrived in Sochi with her eye on a podium finish.

“I really do feel in the best form of my career,” Steele who won a World Cup medal this season said.

“I have the years of experience behind me, I have a very good measure of how I am.”

She said Skeleton is psychological and as well as physical.

“Skeleton is a lot of mental game, a lot of head game. Have to be in a good space, particularly on this track on Sochi, we have to be relaxed,” Steele said.

Travelling at more than 120km an hour, she said the results will often come down to hundredths of a second.

The 27-year-old is a groundbreaker in the sport, the first Australian woman to compete in Skeleton at the Winter Olympics in Torino in 2006, but was devastated to miss selection for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Joining her in missing selection in 2010 was fellow Skeleton competitor Lucy Chaffer.

Chaffer, 30, has spent the last four years working towards Sochi and will make her Olympic debut.

She said not being selected was all part of the Skeleton learning experience.

“Obviously it’s a disappointment when you miss out on something,” Chaffer, the former beach sprinter from Perth said.

“Probably for me because I started in 2006 ... the other girls who were in the program they’d had the extra couple of years of experience which means that you’re probably going to be a better slider.

“It’s always a disappointment, but that’s where I was as a slider. They were better than me and I really just focused on working on the things that I could work on so I could be a better slider and make these games.”

Also making his Olympic debut in Skeleton, John Farrow said he’s soaking up the experience, starting with colouring his hair green and gold.

“I’m just excited for it and getting in the spirit of things,” the 31-year-old said.

With the Bobsleigh and Skeleton sharing the track, albeit with different equipment, Farrow said there’s mutual respect between them.

“If you’ve actually taken a run down in the Bobsled ... even just getting here in a healthy state, good job.”

Returning from Vancouver 2010 as part of the Bobsleigh team in the 2-man and 4-man events, Duncan Harvey said disappointment from four years ago left him wanting more.

Harvey and pilot Chris Spring crashed in a heat in the 2-man event, leading to a disappointing 22nd for the pair and the 4-man team were forced to withdraw due to injuries.

“In 2010 it was very tough for us,” he said.

“I think what inspired me to keep going was, for me, it’s never been about just making the Olympic Games but competing up in that higher echelon and getting what you want out of it. I hadn’t achieved that and it made me want to keep going.

“This time round it’s already been a different experience we’ve got a higher quality team and we’re performing better.

“Basically I just want to get out of it what I think we can achieve and we didn’t do that in Vancouver.”

Harvey’s pilot in both the 2-man and 4-man event at the Sochi Olympics will be Heath Spence.

Spence missed out on the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and decided to move full-time to Calgary, Canada to improve his skills on the track and his chances on making the Sochi Olympics.

Australian Olympic Team Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman said Spence is a key reason behind the men’s qualification in both 2-man and 4-man events.

“He’s been doing an incredible job to get Australia to qualify for these games,” Chesterman said.

Spence said it’s been a long journey to get here, both physically and mentally in preparation for the games.

The 33-year-old said the Australian sleds were arriving Tuesday in Sochi after their journey from Germany through Poland and Latvia. The team can’t wait to test it out on the track.

“I keep looking at my watch. I’ve got the other two guys meeting the truck,” he said.

Nicknamed Dorothy for the red shoes she travels in, Spence believes the 2-man sled will help them give the best Australian performance in the Bobsleigh.

Jokes aside, Spence is serious about a top 10 finish in both events.

“We’re here for business,” he said.  

Australia’s Luge competitor Alex Ferlazzo from Townsville arrived in Sochi on Sunday night.

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