Nfld. & Labrador

Skeleton athlete takes an icy track from snowy slopes of St. John's to world championships

Mark Lynch took the saying "jumping in head-first" literally. After a childhood of racing sleds down snowy slopes, the 31-year-old is now preparing for international competition.

Olympic games are on the radar for Mark Lynch, riding the 'crazy roller-coaster'

Mark Lynch started skeleton when he was 25. After only one year he decided to pursue the sport full-time on top of his job as an engineer. (Mark Lynch/Instagram)

Mark Lynch took the saying "jumping in head-first" literally.

The 31-year-old skeleton athlete got his first run after very little training — just a short preparatory video.

"You really know nothing," Lynch told CBC's St. John's Morning Show. "The first time, it's kind of like getting off a crazy roller-coaster."

But it came naturally after a childhood of racing sleds down snowy slopes in St. John's, and Lynch is now preparing for the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation world skeleton championships in Whistler, B.C.

Mark Lynch gets in position on his homemade skeleton bobsled on Regent Street in St. John's in 2001. (Submitted by Alice Lynch)

His life story is as winding as the icy track itself.

Born in Ottawa, Lynch moved with his family to Fredericton when he was three. At 11 his family moved to St. John's. Lynch would go on to study engineering at Memorial University before moving to Edmonton after graduation, taking a job with Schlumberger.

Lynch got his official start in skeleton in 2013. He was 25 years old and had moved south from Edmonton to Calgary, where he linked up with the Alberta Skeleton Association and an invitation to training, called "driving school."

"It's a little later for most people. They usually try to recruit people out of track and field after university," said Lynch, who said he'd always wanted to try the sport.

"For Canada I'd say most people start [in their] early 20s, but for the rest of the world, like the Europeans, they probably start in their early teens or younger," Lynch said.
Mark Lynch and friend, Corey Cooper, race down Regent Street in St. John's in 2001 on their homemade sleighs. Another friend, Adam Nichols, tries to keep up on bike. While Lynch's mother drives behind in the van. (Submitted by Gerry Lynch)

The first run

He recalls watching only a one-hour presentation before being left to fend for himself on the track.

"They take you halfway up the track and just let you go," Lynch said. "You don't really know what to think. You're a little on top of the world."

Three more days of training and you're ready for the top of the track, according to Lynch, where sledders can hit 100 to 110 km/h.

"At that point it changes the game and it's pretty exciting," he said.

"The first time was about 100 [kilometres per hour]."

Preparing for Whistler

Having grown up as an athlete, Lynch said he missed the competition of sports, which is what nudged him toward skeleton later on in life. He played hockey, rugby, golf and volleyball in his youth and even holds a second-degree black belt in taekwondo.

"This is my first year on the national team. After Christmas I had some races in Lake Placid, New York, and then Park City, Utah," he said.
Mark Lynch is prepping for the skeleton world championships taking place in Whistler, B.C., in March. (Photo by Ron LeBlanc)

"Then I went to the Canadian championships and finished second. So, that's how I got the spot on the world championship team, and we start racing next week."

The Olympic Winter Games in Beijing are three years away, but Lynch isn't ruling them out, adding he still has a lot to learn about the sport and age isn't a factor. 

"It's definitely on the radar. My other teammate who's going to the world championships is the oldest man in the field. He's 39 and he went to the Olympics last year. So there's definitely room to grow," he said. 

The IBSF World Skeleton Championships in Whistler run March 7-8 with sledders competing in two heats each day.

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