Kiwi skeleton racer Sandford faces tough battle

NEED FOR SPORT: New Zealand skeleton racer Ben Sandford is just the third Kiwi to compete at three Winter Games.
NEED FOR SPORT: New Zealand skeleton racer Ben Sandford is just the third Kiwi to compete at three Winter Games.

Rotorua skeleton racer Ben Sandford will embark on his third Winter Olympics campaign in Sochi tomorrow morning - making him just the third Kiwi to attend three Winter Games.

Sandford, who hails from Rotorua, competed in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics in Torino and Vancouver, finishing 10th and 11th respectively.

Taking part in a third games sees Sandford join alpine skier Simon Wi Rutene and speed skater Andrew Nicholson as New Zealand's longest-serving Winter Olympic veterans.

Wi Rutene competed in four Winter Olympics - the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1994 games - with a best result of 17th in Calgary in 1988.

Nicholson, meanwhile, travelled to the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics.

The Auckland-born skater just missed out on a medal at the 1992 Albertville Games, when the New Zealand team finished fourth in the 5000m short track relay event.

Sandford will have a tough time of finishing near the medals in Sochi. His best world cup result in the last year was a 16th place at Lake Placid in the United States, though he did finish an encouraging 11th at the World Championships in St Moritz, Switzerland last February.

The 34-year-old Kiwi does have experience on the Sochi track, which is the longest competitive course in the world, having finished eighth in a world cup test event last year.

The Sochi track was designed to improve athlete safety after Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died during training at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Latvian racer Martins Dukurs, who won the silver in Vancouver four years ago, is the favourite to take out Olympic gold in Sochi.

Dukurs won six of the eight world cup events last year, and enters the Olympics as the most dominant skeleton racer in the world over the last four years.

Russian Alexander Treriakov, and Germans Alexander Kroeckel and Frank Rommel, should also challenge for podium placings.

The first and second runs in the men's skeleton in Sochi will begin from 1.30am tomorrow, while the final two runs start at 3.45am on Sunday.

Fairfax Media