Sliders swap ice for hot air
WINTER SPORT Britain's skeleton stars swapped the speed and acceleration of their sleds for the opportunity to float gracefully over Bath in hot-air balloons to signal the launch of their 2012-3 campaign.
With Tuesday marking the 500-day countdown to Sochi 2014, the sliders are used to getting up early and hitting the gym as they start working towards a crucial pre- Olympic season.
But they swapped the University of Bath Sports Training Village for the chance to float gracefully 2,000ft above British Skeleton's home city.
Performance director Nigel Laughton said: "I'm pleased we were able to offer the athletes this opportunity before they set off for the next six months representing their country.
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"They train twice a day, six days a week, so this was a morning off to allow them to enjoy something totally different.
"Some were a bit worried, some were petrified but they all had a great time.
"It's a huge year for us. We have our selection races and nine World Cups, including the test event in Sochi, and also the World Championships in St Moritz. In a non- Olympic year, this is as big as it gets."
Britain will have the maximum of three men and three women competing on the skeleton World Cup circuit, where they need another strong season to secure the maximum number of quota places for 2013-4.
That would give them the best possible chance of qualifying the maximum six places for the Sochi Olympics, which will get under way on February 7, 2014.
Bath golden girl Amy Williams will not be going to those Games to defend her title, having retired over the summer, but there are still five women going for three GB places this winter.
Shelley Rudman, who won the 2011-12 World Cup Series, and reigning world junior champion Lizzie Yarnold – who is moving full-time to Bath – are facing competition from Laura Deas, Rose McGrandle and Donna Creighton.
Three-time Olympian Kristan Bromley, Dominic Parsons, Ed Smith and David Swift are going for places in the men's squad.
The GB selection races take place at Winterberg in Germany on October 26-27.