Olympics: Coomber ready for ultimate challenge

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The Independent Online

Soon after arriving in the Olympic Village, Alex Coomber, who will carry Britain's best hopes of success into Wednesday's skeleton event, received a helpful pointer from a member of the great British press.

"You do know that losing here, not getting a medal here, wouldn't be like losing in a World Cup race?" he said. "Oh yeah," said Coomber, managing to keep most of her annoyance with the question out of her voice. "Oh yeah, I know that."

"Will you be thinking about that?"

"Well if I think about losing, I might as well not turn up, so I don't really want to think about losing," replied the 28-year-old RAF Intelligence Officer who has already made it clear that she is not here to save the faltering fortunes of the British team, but to deliver the kind of unflinching performance which secured her a third successive World Cup title this season and a world No 1 ranking which, she points out, she will retain after these Olympics whatever the result.

She does not deny, however, that the competition she is preparing for at the Utah Olympic Park course is the most important of her life, nor that she is favourite to win it. With Switzerland's Maya Pedersen and the home hope Michelle Kelly equally intent on taking an 80mph trip on a tea tray to fame, she knows the event is a huge challenge.

"There's no point in going to a race if you know you are going to beat everyone," said Coomber, whose first practice run on the Olympic course yesterday saw her finish third. "It's much better to go to a race where there are an awful lot of very good people and beating a lot, or beating all of them. I would not want to win an Olympic medal if I knew the rest of the field was absolutely hopeless. What's the point of that?"

Coomber knows her strongest challenge will come from Pedersen. But this rival is also a best friend. "On the day of the race," Coomber said, "I will do anything I can to beat Maya, and she will have the same sentiments. But in the skeleton community she is my best friend. It's strange, but that's the way things are in our sport."

Pedersen, a former Swiss 100m runner, is one of the very few on the circuit who is quicker to start than Coomber, whose 5ft 3in and eight stone frame carries an excellent power/weight ratio. At the last world championships Coomber – for reasons which she is still unsure about – had problems with her start, giving a quarter of a second to her Swiss friend on each of the four runs. But such was her skill in the subsequent racing that she was only overtaken by a fraction in the last of the races.

"Maya is a very good sprinter," Coomber said. "She's got a very good body position. She's very quiet on the sled. Weakness-wise, she does often concern herself a lot with what other people are doing rather than concentrating on herself. But if she has a disastrous first run she will fight like anything to come back and do a good second run, so you can never dismiss her."

The challenge is there for Coomber as she prepares for the biggest race of her life. But she wouldn't have it any other way.

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