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Luge & Skeleton Friday, 11 January, 2002, 10:54 GMT
The wrong side of the tracks
Lugers travel at about 90mph
Lugers travel at about 90mph
Britain's generally poor showing in the Winter Olympics can easily be explained.

There are not many natural facilities in the UK, whereas the top winter sport countries cannot get enough of them.

Take the luge for example, where competitors slide down a track horizontally at 90mph.

Britain's representative in the sport, Mark Hatton, has had to train at Swindon Ice Rink because of a distinct lack of Olympic bob tracks in this country.

But Hatton hopes his unorthodox and unglamorous training regime will pay off in the form of a top-15 finish in next month's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

It's not so much fear as you being aware of your own mortality

Mark Hatton

Hatton said: "The local blacksmith made us some start handles which we put on the side of the rink and we practise our push-offs.

"Unfortunately our push-offs are all that we can practise."

Still, the push-offs are all important in the only Olympic sport measured in thousandths of a second.

And when you think it takes 12 thousandths of a second to blink, you realise how close a sport it is.

"I've tied with another racer to the same thousandth of a second before over a two-mile course," added Hatton.

"But on the second run I easily beat him by a few thousandths."

Hatton has to spend eight months of each year leading a solitary life abroad on the World Cup circuit.

Hatton will be GB's luge representative
Hatton will be GB's luge representative

He needs plenty of courage to devote himself full-time to a sport considered one of the most dangerous of all Olympic disciplines.

Luge was belatedly added to the Olympic programme only in 1964 because it was originally considered too dangerous.

Two weeks before its introduction, British luger Kazimierz Kay-Skyszpeski was killed on the Olympic course.

"I do it because there's no feeling like it. It's the greatest sport I've ever done," added Hatton, a former semi-professional rugby player.

"You're two inches from the ice, close to or above 90mph.

"It's not so much fear as you being aware of your own mortality.

He and the sled are one

Hatton on Hackl
"You know if you don't concentrate you could be in trouble. It channels the mind."

In Salt Lake City, Hatton will come up against one of the greatest of all Winter Olympic competitors, Germany's Georg Hackl.

Hackl is bidding to become the first Winter Olympian to win four consecutive gold medals in the same event.

"He's an exceptional athlete. He takes it to another level.

"There is so little time separating people in this sport - but he stands out," said Hatton.

"He is so much smoother than everybody else. He and the sled are one."

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