No NZ venue for our world-class lugers

Many of New Zealand's future Winter Olympians competed at the Winter Games NZ last week but our Olympic lugers had to cool their heels. Marjorie Cook finds out what three of Otago's female skeleton racers are doing.

It is a winter sporting irony that New Zealand has a budding group of Olympic lugers good enough to compete in skeleton racing and bob-sledding on international circuits, yet our country does not have a venue for them.

It might not be fair to say that hell would freeze over before New Zealand could afford to build a massive refrigerated luge track for skeleton and bob-sled racers.

But it is fair to say the sport is so small that some of us might die waiting to see our New Zealand Academy of Sport-nurtured athletes do their helter-skelter thing at home.

Obviously, if there is a will, there is a way, as natural lugers have shown by building a natural luge track at Naseby.

Natural luge is a similar sport.

But the tracks are not refrigerated, the sleds are different and the terrain is natural.

And natural luge is not on the Olympic programme, although it is a demonstration sport at the Winter Games NZ.

Meanwhile, come the northern hemisphere season, three female skeleton racers from Otago will go head to head in a bid to win one or possibly two coveted spots on the Olympic team travelling to Vancouver next year.

Toinette Stoddard

Age: 34

Race history: New Zealand's No 1 woman skeleton racer, Stoddard has been racing for five seasons and finished her 2008-09 year just outside the top 10 at the world championships at Lake Placid, New York, in March this year.

Her 12th place ended a successful year with five top-12 finishes on the world cup circuit.

She is ranked 12th on the world cup circuit and 16th overall.

She missed a place in the 2006 Winter Olympics team by one point.

Earlier this year, she was one of 10 New Zealand athletes to win an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship.

Where is she now? Stoddard is based in Dunedin and trains with the New Zealand Academy of Sport.

Louise Corcoran

Age: 30

Race history: Corcoran is the 2008-09 outright America's Cup champion and the first woman from the southern hemisphere to achieve that result.

In 2006, she won the race for the Olympic berth and wants it again next year.

Formerly the top-ranked female Kiwi, injuries and poor form resulted in Corcoran losing her spot to Stoddard, and she spent last season racing on lower-tiered world circuits.

She finished the 2008-09 world cup season ranked 21.

Corcoran has been racing for nine years.

Where is she now? Corcoran was in Wanaka for years before moving to Burkes Pass and more recently, West Auckland.

She is training with the New Zealand Academy of Sport.

Katharine Eustace

Age: 33

Race history: Eustace took up skeleton in 2007.

Born and raised in Britain, Eustace has an athletics and multisport background and has a world ranking of 32.

Last season, she competed in Canada, the US and Europe on the America's Cup and Intercontinental Cup circuits, with her best result seventh at Calgary (America's Cup) and fifth at Cesana (Intercontinental Cup).

Where is she now? Eustace lives in Wanaka, where she works as a physiotherapist.

She has also been supported by the Winter Olympics Performance programme, through the New Zealand Academy of Sport.


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