Learning to relax at 128km/h

Simidele Adeagbo (Getty Images)
Simidele Adeagbo (Getty Images)

Johannesburg - A podium finish in the women’s skeleton event of the Winter Olympics in South Korea may look unlikely for Nigeria’s Simidele Adeagbo if her results in the women’s official training heats are anything to go by.

The US based Adeagbo, 36, is competing in the head-first sliding sport of skeleton at the Olympics.

She produced the slowest times in all six runs held between Monday and Wednesday at the Olympic Sliding Centre in Pyeongchang.

Adeagbo told AIPS: “Every time I step on the track, I learn something new. For me, it’s about going into race day and being able to pull from those different experiences and put together the best race that I can.

“One of the basic things that you have to do when you are on the sled is relax. It’s so counter-intuitive because you are going so fast at 128km an hour. Your face is inches from the track and sometimes you tense up. I have felt that I was a bit tense and I need to go back to the basics,” she said.

On Monday, Adeagbo clocked 55.17 and 56.07 seconds in heats one and two, respectively. Both times she was last, out of 19 competitors. South Korea’s Sophia Jeong did not start. The next day, she finished 20th with 55.56 and 56.60 seconds in heats three and four. She remained at the bottom on Wednesday, clocking 55.85 and 56.05 seconds in heats five and six.

This may not win Adeagbo a medal in Pyeongchang, but it shows that she has made tremendous progress. Last month, she completed her fifth and sixth races of the season in Lake Placid in the US in 58.11 and 59.88 seconds, respectively.

Although those times earned her bronze medals at the North American Cup, they aren’t good enough on the Olympic stage.

“If you just relax on the sled and enjoy and have fun, you are going to go faster. Those are some of the reminders,” she said.

In skeleton, you use your head, shoulders, knees and toes to steer.

“When the audience is watching on TV, they can’t see it, but you make subtle movements and you have to time them just right. I have been playing around with that throughout the competition.

“Sometimes I’ve made it, other times I haven’t and I’ve had some big hits that remind me of what not to do. But those are good things to happen because you practice and you get better.”

Adeagbo acknowledged that she was the least experienced in the field - she touched a sled for the first time last September.

By yesterday, Pyeongchang 2018 was officially over for Adeagbo. She said everything had happened so fast, and sometimes she wished she could pause and reflect. In the past four months, the journey has been overwhelming for the former triple jumper, but what will happen after Pyeongchang?

Adeagbo will be 40 by the time the next Winter Olympics roll around in China in 2022.

“I want to focus on the present. I don’t want to miss all of the great things that are happening now by thinking too far ahead, but there would be time after this to evaluate my next steps,” the University of Kentucky record holder in triple jump said.

“Through the past few months, I have seen the potential I have in the sport. It’s really exciting and this is what I want the world to see. So many of us may have potential in a sport that we may never have had exposure to. I didn’t know that I could be good at skeleton, but now I’m seeing that it’s possible, so I think my future is bright. I just have to figure out the best way forward.”

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