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Cool athlete speeds to Olympics
Cool athlete speeds to Olympics

Radiating the warmth of a sunny Perth day, the rich red track at the WA Athletics Stadium is a world away from the steep, twisting Russian ice chute Lucy Chaffer hopes to throw herself down at next year's Winter Olympics in the sport called skeleton.

But for now, it will have to do.

In a scene reminiscent of the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1993 film Cool Runnings, the only female skeleton athlete in WA sprints towards an improvised sled on wheels, catapulting herself down the track.

She is hoping to improve her starts and technique enough to qualify for the Australian team for the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia in February.

The 29-year-old self-confessed thrill-seeker from Bicton, who is ranked 11 in the world, admits training on a Perth track is far removed from the real deal, which involves sprinting up to 20m and diving into a small metal sled to hurtle headfirst down an ice chute at 130km/h.

But Chaffer, who used to compete as a surf lifesaver, said she was determined to make the most of her training at home before heading to the slopes of Latvia and Germany next week to spend three months honing her skills.

She is vying for one of two places in the national squad this year.

Chaffer narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 but said she was confident that she would qualify this time after she took out silver in the World Cup race at Whistler last year.

"This is my best chance to go," Chaffer said.

"The Olympics are a big driving force for me - to be able to represent your country at an Olympic Games is such a unique opportunity."

Surprisingly, it was Chaffer's surf lifesaving background that led her to skeleton. She was one of several candidates tested in Canberra about eight years ago to determine if they had an aptitude for the sport after the Australian Institute of Sport identified that beach sprinting developed the physical attributes for skeleton sledders.

Chaffer grabbed the opportunity to try out for an Olympic event.

"I had finished my other sports, water polo and beach sprinting, and it looked like fun," she said.

Chaffer, who is hoping to win sponsorship to help fund her out-of-season overseas training, will spend just four months in Perth this year, using her time at home to do countless weight and sprint training sessions to get her ready for the season ahead, which starts in November.

She admitted skeleton required a "little bit of fearlessness" and an ability to be comfortable with feeling "a little out of control".

She said she enjoyed the challenge, because no two runs were ever the same and there was always something to improve on.

"When you get used to doing it, time seems to slow down," she said.

"But you have to be able to take a hit. Inevitably, you will hit a wall at 120km/h."