Bay skeleton racer on uphill climb to downhill success

Imagine hurtling down an icy slope at 140kmh on little more than a tray. Add head first, with your chin just centimetres from the ice - and you have skeleton racing.
It's not for the faint hearted but it's what New Zealand's top exponent, Ben Sandford, does for kicks.
"There's always the risk something will go wrong. There are crashes but nothing bad - tracks are designed for safety," Sandford, 25, said.
When asked what his mother thinks of his pursuit Sandford replied: "She loves it, she thinks it's fantastic".
The former Rotorua Boys' High School student, now armed with a law degree, will head overseas this week with his eyes and mind firmly fixed on the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Last season Sandford, who spends most of his time in Canada, competed in his first World Cup in Calgary, Canada, and the world championships in Germany, finishing 12th and 21st respectively.
His aim for the coming season is to get a top-eight finish at the world championships in Calgary and to help requalify the New Zealand men's team for next season's World Cup circuit.
Both results would help Sandford appear at the sport's highest peak - where he has lofty ambitions.
"I am aiming for a win at the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy," Sandford said.
"I love this sport and my aim is to be the best that I can. I believe that if I can achieve even close to that I will be the best in the world."
To get to that position Sandford said he would have to slice four tenths of a second off his times over the 1.2km to 1.7km distances to topple current world champion Duff Gibson, of Canada.
Hampering Sandford in his start is his own body.

He's 2.05m tall and weighs 95kg. The weight is great as it is good for momentum, but his height does not allow him to get on board as quickly as other riders before they rocket down frozen man-made tracks.
Sandford believes his goals are achievable.
He's got a new $8000 sled and has been working hard in the off-season while he has been based in Hamilton.
"It's little things. This season I'll have a better sled, start better and know the tracks better ... "You've got to slowly improve what you're doing on the track," he said.
"Most of my training is about getting my starts faster, more explosive power and quicker over 30 metres," he said. Lifting weights, plyometric (bounding) exercises and sprint training have been much of his focus, with eight to 10 workouts a week.
Sandford has only been competing seriously for the last two years and believes his best is yet to come.
"Most of the guys are quite old. Most of the guys are in their 30s," Sandford said.
That should give him plenty of time.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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