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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 00:57 GMT

Coomber's moment of truth

It is D-day for Britain's gold medal hope, reports BBC Sport Online's Anna Thompson

Alex Coomber has taken part in umpteen races during her five years as a skeleton slider.

But none has been as big as today's Olympic final at Utah Olympic Park, which begins at 1700GMT.

Four years of preparation for less than two minutes on the ice. Hundredths of a second will determine who succeeds and who fails.

It is 54 years since the skeleton was last an Olympic event. It was seen at St Moritz in 1948 but then dropped because it was considered too dangerous.

Coomber, the three-time World Cup champion, knows it is a high-risk sport - but that is why she loves it.

"It is a psychological game but you just have to stay focused"
Alex Coomber

She has the same ritual for every race day.

Coomber will clean her helmet, check her spikes and hang up her suit - in that order.

Her sled has to be at the competition venue an hour before the race starts.

The runner covers are taken off and minor adjustments can be made to the sleds up to 20 minutes before the race.

Then all the mind games start.

Coomber told BBC Sport Online: "There are always rumours about someone with new runners, new race suit materials, a new helmet or a good start number.

"It is a psychological game but you just have to stay focused."

The 28-year-old had her first taste of the sport when she attended a week-long training camp in Austria in 1997.

She won a race at the end of the camp.

Her natural talent was mentioned to national team bosses and Coomber's skeleton career began.

She is an RAF intelligence officer normally but has been given an 18-month sabbatical to pursue her Olympic dream.

When asked to describe what the sport is like to the lay-man, Coomber said: "The only thing I could liken it to is being pulled along on a skateboard by a truck going very fast down a motorway."

Coomber is so focused she said she never notices the crowds watching her but does hear the sounds.

She said cheekily: "In some races, I have even listened out for my start time as I've jumped on the sled!"

Today, Coomber is bound to hear the crowd's reaction if she clinches Britain's first Olympic gold medal for 18 years.

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