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Olympic skeleton hopefuls on slippery slope

Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh needs help from a teammate who could knock her out of a potential spot on the Canadian team.

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Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh needs help from a teammate who could knock her out of a potential spot on the Canadian team. (FILE PHOTO)

If Cassie Hawrysh’s Olympic journey ends this weekend, it will be with the knowledge that she did all she could in her final chance to qualify.

The 29-year-old Brandon native finalized her case for representing Canada in women’s skeleton at next month’s Sochi Winter Games by capping the Intercontinental Cup season with back-to-back gold medals last weekend in Park City, Utah.

"I am super proud," Hawrysh said from Calgary, where the national team is based. "I went out to do a job and that’s what I did. Certainly I would have liked to have won all four of the last four races, but it was three podiums in four races … and to seal it off with two golds was ideal for me."

Now all Hawrysh can do is wait and watch rookie Robynne Thompson today as she tries to earn a third spot in the Olympics for Canadian sliders at the final World Cup race in Igls, Austria. While it will all come down to a complicated points calculation, basically Thompson has to beat the third-best Russian and British sliders by enough to earn a third spot in Sochi for Canada, which is already sending Sarah Reid and Melissa Hollingsworth to Russia. However, in a classic catch-22 situation, the better Thompson does, the worse Hawrysh’s chances get of being selected by the coaching staff as that potential third Canadian Olympian, since Thompson already holds a razor-thin points lead over the Neelin graduate.

"Ultimately that’s the double-edge sword here, right? Because she needs to do well and if she does that, then she will definitely have more points than me," said Hawrysh, who is ranked 17th in the world, just one spot behind Thompson. "So the scenarios are looking (unlikely), but there’s still an outside chance. The thing is Robynne certainly can perform and I’m hoping she does because I believe she can put a good race together, but I don’t want that to be the only thing that comes into play (for who goes to the Games) if we do have a third sled. … I feel like I have definitely made a good case for myself."

Unfortunately, it may have been a case of too little, too late — for both Hawrysh and Thompson. And head coach Duff Gibson is realistic about Canada’s chances.

"At this point, it is becoming more and more of a long shot that Canada will qualify a third spot (for Sochi)," Gibson said. "It’s not impossible that Robynne would do it. But if you want to look at pure odds, it’s less likely that Cassie would (qualify) at this point. It wouldn’t necessarily come down to just points; I think coaches’ discretion would factor into it and the fact that Cassie has ended the season on a silver and two golds on the IC circuit would definitely factor into it. But the problem is now, for Canada to earn the last spot, Robynne has to do a superior performance and if that superior performance happens, maybe that shows (she has) more potential than Cassie (at the Olympics) ... But the truth is, at this point, it’s less than 50-50 that Canada will get a third spot. It will take a heck of a race this weekend by Robynne."

The same holds true on the men’s side as Russell’s Jon Montgomery makes one last desperate bid on Saturday to qualify to defend the men’s skeleton gold medal he won at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The 34-year-old is coming off a disappointing 18th-place finish on the World Cup tour last weekend and sits 24th in the world rankings.

Canada’s top two men’s sliders, Eric Neilson and John Fairbairn, are both ranked in the top 10 in the world and have already earned trips to the Olympics. Montgomery will need to put it all together and have a great race tomorrow in order for Canada to qualify a third slider.

"Athletically (Montgomery) is doing fantastic; he’s at his best," Gibson said. "He certainly knows pressure and the concepts and he has slid very well before. But because he has built a new sled for himself, he just isn’t gelling 100 per cent with that sled yet. … He’s in a slightly better position than Robynne and Cassie, given his history. But it will take, I’m guessing, probably at least a top-six finish (to qualify)."

One way or another, Montgomery and Hawrysh’s Olympic fates will be decided over the next 48 hours, with the Sochi Games just 20 days away.

HARDING’S HOPES:

Brandon boxer Noel Harding leaves today for Las Vegas to train at Floyd Mayweather’s gym, just a week after returning from Catskill, N.Y., where he sparred at the legendary Cus D’Amato Boxing Gym that produced former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

For the 33-year-old Harding, it was more than just a pugilistic pilgrimage, as he tried to impress pro boxing promoters and sign a contract.

"It was a really cool, nostalgic atmosphere to be training at the gym that Mike Tyson came up through," said Harding, who is 3-0 as a pro with two first-round KOs. "The walls were covered with the original newspaper clippings of when he was the heavyweight champion and nothing has really been touched in that gym since the ’80s.

"While I was there I was sparring and being assessed and whether or not it’s going to amount to anything, I’ll find out in the very near future. … I do have companies that are interested now and willing to sign me, so I’m going to weigh my options and make a decision."

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 17, 2014

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If Cassie Hawrysh’s Olympic journey ends this weekend, it will be with the knowledge that she did all she could in her final chance to qualify.

The 29-year-old Brandon native finalized her case for representing Canada in women’s skeleton at next month’s Sochi Winter Games by capping the Intercontinental Cup season with back-to-back gold medals last weekend in Park City, Utah.

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If Cassie Hawrysh’s Olympic journey ends this weekend, it will be with the knowledge that she did all she could in her final chance to qualify.

The 29-year-old Brandon native finalized her case for representing Canada in women’s skeleton at next month’s Sochi Winter Games by capping the Intercontinental Cup season with back-to-back gold medals last weekend in Park City, Utah.

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