Olympics: Bouncers, ballerinas, cheese-grater find skeleton home

Sunday, February 16th, 2014. Filed under: Destinations Offbeat Sports & Recreation
Canada's Sarah Reid takes off during Skeleton training at the Sanki Sliding Center in Rosa Khutor during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 11, 2014. © AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL

Canada’s Sarah Reid takes off during Skeleton training at the Sanki Sliding Center in Rosa Khutor during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 11, 2014.
© AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL

(ROSA KHUTOR-AFP) – Heard the one about the nightclub bouncer and the ballerina? Or the tale of the guy who learned to slide on ice at breakneck speed by wearing shoes made from a cheese grater?

They have all found a home in the helter-skelter, head-first world of skeleton racing and they are bringing a collection of colourful back stories to the Olympic Games.

Swiss-born Alexandros Kefalas, 29, one of the few Greek athletes in Sochi, told AFP that just five years ago he could not imagine being a Winter Olympian.

He grew up in the Swiss town of Chamfer to a Greek father and Swiss mother and had tried a variety of sports, including martial arts.

He then worked as a bouncer in a St. Moritz nightclub, the Dracula, which is famous among local skeleton riders.

Once he had accepted their offer to make a trial attempt at the famed Cresta Run, he was hooked.

“It all started in the winter of 2007/2008, when I had my first encounter with an ice run,” he said.

“I tried the famous Cresta Run. The fear which I experienced at the top then transferred into an indescribable feeling of joy after my first runs.”

Canada’s Sarah Reid exchanged the poise and grace of ballet for the rough house of skeleton.

“To be honest, I still don’t really know how it happened,” said the 26-year-old, who spent 11 years as a ballerina.

“I was just looking for something new and actually I wanted to try bobsleigh after watching (Hollywood comedy) “Cool Runnings”.

“I was 15 at that time, so I was too young for bobsleigh. I was asked whether I wanted to try skeleton and I’ve been in it ever since.

“My ballet past seems to be helpful because skeleton needs the right balance and the capability to find the right rhythm on the track.”

- ‘Why skeleton? Why not?’ -

Canada’s John Fairbairn said he started skeleton at the age of 22 after finishing his career as a long jumper.

This year the 30-year-old became just the fifth Canadian man to gain a World Cup podium by clinching a bronze in St. Moritz.

“Why skeleton? Why not? It’s very popular in Canada and many retired athletes try their skills in it,” he told AFP.

“I didn’t ever think about luge where you need to start learning how to steer your sled from an early age. Skeleton is far less complex. I have made my wish come true, I’m an Olympian.”

Australian Lucy Chaffer, 30, who switched to skeleton in 2006 after finishing her decade-long career as a professional water polo player, said she was thankful for a chance to extend her sporting career.

“After I finished my water polo career at 23 I was offered a transfer into skeleton through the Institute of Sport’s talent identification programme,” she said.

“I tried it out and it worked well as you can see me now at the Olympics.”

But the most unlikely skeleton rider in Sochi may well be Ander Mirambell, 30, of Spain.

Nicknamed “The Frozen Cat”, he first raced in 2005 on a homemade sled, wearing shoes made with nails and a cheese grater.

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