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Second-place finisher Sarah Reid, of Calgary, Alta., competes during the women's World Cup skeleton event in Whistler, B.C., on Friday November 23, 2012. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Second-place finisher Sarah Reid, of Calgary, Alta., competes during the women's World Cup skeleton event in Whistler, B.C., on Friday November 23, 2012. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Former ballerina turned skeleton racer blazing on ice towards Sochi Add to ...

Sarah Reid tried to go from being a ballerina to a bobsledder, but the conversion did not work out as planned.

So she turned to the sport of skeleton instead. The move, which she made a decade ago, is finally paying off on the World Cup circuit this season.

The 25-year-old Calgary racer has placed first and second in two of the season’s first three World Cup events. As the team heads off to Europe on Thursday, she needs just two more top-six results, including one next season, to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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“When I stopped dance, I wanted to do something really different, try something new, and I originally really wanted to do bobsleigh,” she said. “I didn’t even know what skeleton was at the time.”

Reid, who specialized in the cechetti form of ballet, was on the verge of qualifying for her teaching certificate in the dance when she had a change of heart. She contacted Canada Olympic Park, the national team’s Calgary base, and arranged to go to a Bobsleigh Canada selection camp.

But the diminutive Reid soon discovered that bobsled, which requires considerable strength and explosive speed to push a heavy sled and get off to a fast start, was not for her.

“Once I actually got out there in the ice house with all the other bobsleigh athletes, it was pretty apparent that I’m way too small for bobsleigh,” she said. “I was really young at the time, too. So (Bobsleigh Canada officials) took me aside and put me in skeleton.”

Reid won her first career World Cup in Lake Placid on Nov. 8, beating Melissa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., a two-time World Cup season champion and 2006 Olympic bronze medallist, by just three-hundredths of a second. In last weekend’s event at Whistler, B.C., Reid placed second, 17-hundreds behind Germany’s Marion Thees.

Canadian coach Duff Gibson said Reid’s results have improved dramatically this season, as shown by her first World Cup gold and silver medals, but she is not doing much differently. One key difference is that she is relaxing her back and neck muscles to absorb the ice better as she slides.

“That’s a very subtle difference,” he said. “But it has an effect on her aerodynamics.”

Since FIBT rules prohibit a suspension system on the sleds, a racer’s ability to smooth the ride is critical.

“You are the shock absorber,” he said.

Reid’s dancing experience also helps, he added, because there is a certain rhythm involved as sliders go down the track. While Reid’s small stature is also beneficial to the gliding process, no challenge is too big for her.

Reid, a former world junior champion (2008), is in excellent position to qualify for her first Olympics as the World Cup circuit shifts to Europe for the balance of the 2012-13 campaign. Starting with the Dec. 7-9 event in Winterberg, Germany, Reid has six competitions in which to put a virtual lock on an Olympic spot.

After Winterberg, racers will head to La Plagne, France in mid-December, for the last event before Christmas. After the holidays, the tour moves back to Germany for events venues Altenberg and Konigssee in early and mid-January, before venturing to Igls, Austria later in the month and Sochi, Russia for an Olympic test, in February.

Reid served as a forerunner during the 2010 Winter Games at Whistler and hopes her behind-the-scenes view of the Athletes Village will pay off if she earns a return ticket to Sochi.

“It was a good lead-up to Sochi to see how a home Games worked especially, because there’s so much more pressure, and to see how the athletes work under the pressure — the ins and outs of the actual Olympics and the competition,” she said.

With Games berths adding extra incentive this season, athletes are “bringing their A game” to the World Cup circuit and testing new sleds and other equipment. Reid finds her new Bromley sled easier to maouevre than her old one, and it has more elements that a racer can play around with and change.

Gibson said he has to assume the new sled, designed by British skeleton star Kristan Bromley and his brother Richard, is mostly responsible for Reid’s improvement. She has always been a “big competitor” and “near the top of the world” in the past two years, but could finish no better than fourth at Nagano in 2007.

“It was just time to try something different,” said Reid.

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