Moment of truth for Olympic hopeful

The Vancouver Olympics Games are still four months away, but every so often, Amy Gough’s brain goes into fast-forward mode.

On average, it probably happens once a day. Maybe even more often these days, now that Gough is in Whistler to train with the Canadian skeleton team.

“I definitely picture myself at the Olympics,” admitted Gough, a 32-year-old Abbotsford product. “It happens randomly – every once in a while, something will trigger it.

“The great thing is to see the hype about the Olympics here (in Whistler) . . . all the Olympic pins and mugs and shirts. That definitely triggers some thoughts and visualizations.”

Gough’s Olympic dream has been seven years in the making, and her moment of truth is approaching faster than a skeleton sled hurtling down an icy track at 100 kilometres an hour.

This coming weekend, Gough will be one of six Canadian women participating in the first of three World Cup team qualifying races in Whistler. The final two races run Oct. 24-25 in Calgary, and the top three women in the aggregate standings make the cut for the World Cup team. The remaining three women will compete on the second-tier Intercontinental Cup circuit.

Making the World Cup team wouldn’t completely ensure Gough’s presence on Canada’s Olympic squad; nor would failing to make the cut completely eliminate her from contention. But it would give her the inside track to an appearance at the Vancouver Games.

Thus, the next two weeks will be pressure-packed. Gough deals with the stress by taking time out from her practice regimen to read books or go shopping – sort of a mental health break. Right now, she’s reading “The Life of Pi” by Canadian author Yann Martel, a tale about a boy marooned on a boat at sea with a Bengal tiger.

“It’s definitely a book of survival,” Gough said. “It’s crazy to read about his mental battles.”

Gough’s own journey to the cusp of the Olympics is the stuff of fiction.

Her first brush with the sport of skeleton came in 2002, when a friend invited her to a “Discover Skeleton” event at Calgary Olympic Park. For $30, organizers would put you on a sled halfway up the track and let you scream your way to the bottom.

In Gough’s own words, she was “dragged tooth and nail” to that first session. But her first trip down the chute was such a hoot that she signed up for a weekend training course so she could try the track from the top.

Gough progressed rapidly from there, moving from a recreational association to the developmental America’s Cup circuit to the Europa Cup system in just three years. In 2006, Gough was called up to join Canada’s World Cup squad when one of her teammates elected to take the season off. She finished seventh in the World Cup standings that year, and began to think that perhaps an Olympic bid was possible.

Last season, Gough failed to make the cut for Canada’s World Cup team. But despite competing on the Intercontinental Cup loop, she still managed to finish 14th overall in the world rankings, thanks to a trio of IC victories. That gives Gough plenty of optimism heading into the Olympic stretch drive.

“I’m really excited for this final push,” she said. “I definitely have my good days and bad days (in training). I have yet to be in first place on the time sheet, but I’ve been consistently training in about the third position, and sometimes the second. I’m getting really excited about the possibility that it’s going to happen.”

Even if her Olympic bid falls short, Gough said that the effort would not have been wasted.

“I have put in a lot of effort, and I want to enjoy each aspect,” she said. “The memories I have of the last few years, some of them are of my wins. But most of them are of getting to know my teammates, of really having a great time on tour and experiencing new things.”

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