Late starter Eustace raring to 'give it a go'
Wanaka physiotherapist Katharine Eustace will complete an improbable journey when she stands at the top of the Sliding Center Sanki ready for the start of the Olympic skeleton competition.
Eustace, a British-born former junior international sprinter, only took up skeleton racing at 32 when she decided to head to Canada to "give it a go".
Six years later the 38-year-old will make her Olympic debut at the Rzhanaya Polyana resort, 60km from Sochi, tomorrow night.
"I used to be a sprinter a few years back - like 20 years or so - and then I came to New Zealand and took up multisport, did the Coast to Coast a few times and then I heard about skeleton racing and went off to Canada to have a go, and got addicted," she said.
"I love sport and I'll try anything, so I thought 'I'll have a go'. Each time I set a goal I was going to stop if I didn't achieve that goal, but I kept on achieving the goals that I wanted to, and now I find myself at an Olympic Games, which seems pretty unlikely."
For the uninitiated, the skeleton involves hurtling down an artificial track face-first on a weighted sled. Steering is done with subtle body movements. When it all goes well, there is no better feeling. It can also go badly wrong.
Eustace remembers her first time on the track.
"They just put you on the sled and they go 'well, off you go'. Either you hate it and never go again or you go back because you just want to get better and better and you enjoy the speed. It's a pretty amazing feeling when you get a good run."
So, for the past six years, Eustace has been honing her craft in North America and Europe, often alongside New Zealand men's skeleton racer Ben Sandford.
Life hasn't always been easy on the road. Financially it can be tough.
"When I first started that was definitely what it was like. When you start to get top 16 in the world, then you start to get more support. A year out from the Olympics you get more support, but we don't get the support some nations do that have their own tracks and coaches and sled technicians, physio. We have enough money for the season, and a coach sometimes," she said.
"[Other competitors] do feel for sorry for us and we tap into other people's resources when we can. I'm pretty proud of how New Zealand get on, Ben and I have definitely been punching above our weight in terms of results and things. It's pretty exciting to be there competing against the best people in the world - and we are one of them without having the resources that they have."
Eustace will have done 40 runs on the Olympic course before the first of her four heats this week, but will have done hundreds more in her head.
She has spent hours lying on her sled in her room, visualising every twist and turn.
"I'm having my best season so far and I had a couple of good results in North America," she said.
"A top six is what I'm aiming for, and realistically pushing towards the podium. If I slide my best and everything comes together there's no reason I shouldn't be at the top. I'm going to see how it goes, do all the preparation I can to be the best I can."
The Southland Times