Former Deniliquin man Chris Arnold impresses in first Europa Cup skeleton season.By Shaun Connor
Less than one year out from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, former Deniliquin man Chris Arnold has his sights firmly set on a spot on the Australian team.
The 28 year-old, now based in Melbourne, recently returned home from an overseas tour with the Australian skeleton squad, in which he completed his first full Europa Cup season (nine races).
Impressively, the natural sportsman finished 16th out of 54 competitors.
The few months of hard work, blistering snow and a white backdrop helped Arnold’s fledgling career immensely, with his world ranking improving from 105 to 73.
Skeleton is a winter sliding sport in which competitors ride a small sled down a frozen track, often reaching speeds of up to 140km/h.
Arnold’s first real introduction to the sport was a training camp at Lake Placid, USA in March last year.
Aiming to improve his sliding skills and ability during the off-season, the four-time Deniliquin Rams premiership player is already looking forward to his next international series.
‘‘My goal is to score enough points (in the 2013-14 season) to improve my rank and qualify outright, or be selected by coaches to race at the Winter Olympics,’’ he said.
‘‘Hopefully I’ll be stepping up a level to the Intercontinental Cup and, if I perform well, may even get to race some World Cup races.’’
Before the Europa Cup season got under way late last year, Arnold joined the Australian squad in Calgary, Canada for a three-week training camp.
The aim of the camp, Arnold said, was for the athletes to familiarise themselves with the new sleds and equipment, and to get back into sliding for the coming season.
From Calgary, Arnold and Australian teammate Scott Ballard made their way to Europe for some more training in Königssee, Germany, where the first two races of the Europa Cup season was to be held.
Arnold was fortunate enough to be granted permission to race in the Tirol Cup in Ingls, Austria, in which he finished fifth.
The first official race of the season resulted in a ninth-place finish for Arnold, in a field which included 36 men.
‘‘I had really good training runs for the three days before the first (Europa Cup) race,’’ Arnold said.
‘‘The field included both Intercontinental and World Cup athletes who didn’t head to North America for the early races. To finish in the top 10 was a huge result for my first race.’’
Brimming with confidence after a successful start, Arnold had a brilliant first run in his second race, after which he was placed seventh.
‘‘I qualified for a second run (in race two) but unfortunately I flipped the sled and lost a lot of time and fell to 20th.
‘‘It was disappointing but I learnt a lot about how to slide and race at that track.’’
From Königssee, Arnold travelled to La Plagne, France where he had a week of paid training and then a week of official training before races three and four of the Europa Cup.
‘‘This was a very unknown track as it hadn’t been on any of the circuits for over a decade, meaning many coaches hadn’t slid there in their careers. There really was an element of fear to the track,’’ Arnold said.
‘‘Race three was not great for me. I had a bad first run where I placed 19th but still managed to qualify for a second run.
‘‘I ruptured one of my hamstring muscles in the start but completed the run. I actually had a PB (personal best) down time and moved up a spot to finish 18th. Still, it wasn’t great and I would have liked to have finished higher.’’
Arnold missed race four due to the hamstring injury, and two weeks later he and Ballard were on their way back to Austria, where they assisted the Australian junior squad at the World Junior Championships.
‘‘From there we headed to Altenberg, Germany for four days early paid training before having two weeks break over the Christmas and New Year period.
‘‘I spent this time at the AIS European Training Centre in Verese, Italy and rested, weight trained and worked on rehabbing my hamstring.
‘‘In January we headed back to Igls where we started training for the next three races of the season.’’
The next three Europa Cup races, all held in Igls, yielded 13th, 11th and 15th-place finishes for Arnold, after which he headed to Altenberg, Germany for the final two races of the season.
In race eight, on January 18, he finished 12th. The following day he crashed on his first turn and didn’t finish the race.
‘‘Race nine was terrible. I crashed out on my first run and didn’t finish, placing 24th and scoring no points.
‘‘From there I was scheduled to fly home on January 26 but due to an injury of one of our male athletes, I stepped up and filled in for an Intercontinental Cup race in Winterberg, Germany.
‘‘I finished 19th but could have done better. It wasn’t bad, though, considering I had only five training runs before the race and my body was pretty beat up from my crash in the days before.’’
Arnold expects to have a week’s worth of training at the AIS in Canberra in June, but said the camp could also be held at another location.
After spending months in the cold, away from home, Arnold said the training camp ‘‘hopefully won’t be overseas, but you never know’’.
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