Getting back up on the horse

After her heartbreaking fifth-place finish at the Vancouver Olympics, Canadian skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth doesn’t want to waste any time getting back on the track.

Eckville’s Mellisa Hollingsworth is already itching to get back on the track after finishing fifth in the skeleton on Saturday.

Eckville’s Mellisa Hollingsworth is already itching to get back on the track after finishing fifth in the skeleton on Saturday.

WHISTLER, B.C. — After her heartbreaking fifth-place finish at the Vancouver Olympics, Canadian skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth doesn’t want to waste any time getting back on the track.

“I’m asking if I can fore-run men’s four-man bobsleigh race (on Friday),” said Hollingsworth, referring to the sliders who go down ahead of the competitors to check the ice conditions before each heat.“I just want to get that feeling back.

“I don’t want that to be my last run of the season.”

The 29-year-old from Eckville also vows to finish what she started at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Hollingsworth admits she wouldn’t have been content finishing second to leader Amy Williams on Friday night.

“I wanted to stand on the top of that podium. I’m not ashamed of that,” she told a news conference Sunday.

But as she carved through the hairpins and sweeping S curves on the upper part of the track, things went wrong.

She whipped through the sweeping left hand curve in Turn 6, the G forces pinning her to the sidewall, then down into another sweeping turn the other way in Turn 7, which is nicknamed Lueders Loop after the Canadian bobsled pilot who’s crashed there in training years ago.

“Literally I was off the (optimum driving) line this much, coming off corner 6,” said Hollingsworth, said holding her thumb and finger centimetres apart.

“It caused those oscillations in Corner 7 where then you saw the two big exploding hits (into the walls) in that bend-away.”

Hollingsworth pinballed thorough Curve 7 like a windshield wiper blade. All her speed and momentum was lost, and she wound her way down the course, her jet fighter sled turned into a prop plane.

“The difference between a gold medal and my fifth place finish was literally this much,” she said, holding her hands a metre apart.

“And that’s it,” she said, her voice trailing off then catching with emotion, tears filling her eyes. “Fifteen years (of training) and, uh, . . . it was . . . uh . . . it was heartbreaking.

“But the first thing I wanted to do (at the finish line) was to grab my (Canadian flag) and show all Canadians that I didn’t give up, that I believed and I took a risk.”

At the finish line she congratulated the winners and then sat by herself in finish house, her coach Nathan Cicoria for company, the cheers for the winners reverberating through the walls.

“I was completely stunned and in shock. I sat there wishing for a do-over. I thought ‘This can’t be happening,”’ she said.

“Why would I have to make a mistake like that in the biggest moment of my career?”

She eventually looked at Cicoria.

“What was my start (time)?” she asked.

“Four point nine-three (seconds),” he said.

That was the best in the heat. The best push out of the start blocks in her career for the woman from known more for her driving than her push-start.

She knew then that she still has another Olympics in her.

“At that moment it sparked something inside of me,” she said. “I did it. Something I’d trained for for the last 15 years, the blood, sweat and tears.

“In that run, I was No. 1 (in the start) for the first time ever, and 2014 flashed in my mind, so I’ll definitely be back and I’ll be proud to be representing Canada.”

Hollingsworth was the closest thing Canada had to a podium lock in the sliding sports. She was No. 1 on the World Cup circuit this year. She took the podium in seven of eight races against elite European racers on their home tracks in Germany, Austria and Italy.

The hype machine was pumping her up larger than life. Her long, black hair and mile-wide bright-white smile were on Olympic commercials, in ads and in newspapers. TV features showed the country girl living in the shadow of the foothills of Alberta, barrel racing on her horse Rascal.

Journalists wrote about her new helmet, a black lid with a golden horse skull on top, celebrating her dual love of horses and skeleton.

They interviewed her father Darcy in his signature black cowboy hat. He talked about consoling a devastated daughter when she missed the Olympic cut in 2002, then celebrating with her when she won Olympic bronze in Turin in 2006.

On Sunday, Darcy said he didn’t say anything to his daughter after the race. Just sat with her and held her hand.

“There was nothing you could say,” he said.

He said as hard as it was, it was easier than 2002, when Mellisa missed the cut for Salt Lake City.

“She had an opportunity here (in Vancouver). She was there and she missed it by a centimetre, but just because she took a shot and was going for it.”

Mellisa said that after the race, Williams — who didn’t make the World Cup podium all season but found her groove on the Whistler track — walked over to her and said, “We all know that you’re awesome.”

Hours later at Canada House, Hollingsworth said she ran into Duff Gibson, Canada’s gold medal winner in men’s skeleton in 2006. She said he told her, “My heart breaks for you, but I never won a yellow jersey (as a World Cup champion), let alone twice.”

Back in the athletes village, she bumped into Maya Pedersen in the cafeteria. Pedersen, the Swiss slider who won skeleton Olympic gold in 2006, started crying, said Hollingsworth. She said Pedersen told her “You’re the best slider in the world. All I wanted for you was a medal.”

The following day, Hollingsworth said she didn’t get out of bed, but instead thumbed through about 500 email messages of support from people, many of whom she didn’t know and with whom she had no connection.

“It’s overwhelming how many messages I’ve had. It’s helped me process what’s going on. I’ve done my best to reply to all of them and to make sure everybody who has reached out to me to know that it’s helped,” she said.

She went to the medals ceremony in Whistler on Saturday night to watch teammate Jon Montgomery, the bed-headed surfer dude who had become a national sensation by winning gold in skeleton then marching through Whistler village with a jug of beer to celebrate.

“We got to watch Jonny (pretend to) brush off that podium then jump there like a true passionate Canadian.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”