Olympics Winter

Canada eyes skeleton sweep

Canada will take a run at double gold in skeleton as World Cup champion Mellisa Hollingsworth and men's contender Jon Montgomery lead a strong team into the first day of Olympic competition on Thursday.

Canada will take a run at double gold in skeleton as World Cup champion Mellisa Hollingsworth leads a strong Canadian team into the first day of Olympic competition on Thursday.

Jon Montgomery is a solid contender in the men's event after sweeping the training runs at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Hollingsworth, 29, is coming off a stellar World Cup season in which she reached the podium eight times in nine starts, capturing the World Cup season title for the second time in her career. She won a pair of races, placed second in another two, and finished third on three occasions.

The Eckville, Alta., native also won the World Cup title in 2005-06, taking bronze at the Torino Olympics along the way. That was Canada's first-ever medal in skeleton, a sliding sport that was dropped from the program following the 1948 Games before reappearing in 2002.

Hollingsworth was the fastest athlete in the training sessions held Monday through Wednesday. She posted the best time in five of the six runs, and finished third in the other.

Teammate Amy Gough of Abbotsford, B.C., also looked strong, winning one run and finishing second in two others. Michelle Kelly of Fort St. John, B.C., had a third- and a seventh-place showing on the opening day before finishing outside the top 11 in the other four heats.

Gough was ninth in the World Cup season, while Kelly was 13th.

World Cup runner-up Shelley Rudman of Great Britain averaged about an eighth-place finish in training. She saved her best run for last, though, coming fourth in Wednesday's final heat.

Competition begins Thursday with a pair of runs for both the men and women, followed by the final two on Friday. The best combined time wins.

Track not shortened

Montgomery, from Russell, Man., posted the best time in all six men's training runs, while Zach Lund of the U.S. was second-fastest overall.

Calgary's Jeff Pain, the defending Olympic silver medallist, averaged about a sixth-place finish. But throw out his 15th-place misstep in the penultimate run, and he averaged a third.

Toronto's Mike Douglas was about fifth on average, and had the third-best time in the final heat.

World Cup champion Martins Dukurs of Latvia struggled for much of the training, averaging a ninth-place finish. But he seemed to get it together on his final run, placing second.

Montgomery ranked fifth on the World Cup circuit this season, with Pain and Douglas 10th and 11th, respectively.

The Canadians, though, have an advantage at the Olympics because they've had far more opportunities to practise on the Whistler track, which is considered very challenging.

On Monday, the entire field got its first look at the course since changes were made following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Corner 16, where Kumaritashvili lost contact with his sled and slammed into a pole, has been modified in hopes of making it safer.

Unlike their luge counterparts, skeleton officials decided against shortening the course in order to reduce speeds.