With the new skeleton season fast approaching, Dominic Parsons has particular reason for optimism – his ankle.
Forget for a second the difficulty of navigating the tricky courses, or mastering speeds of over 80mph, the sport of skeleton – like it’s close relation bobsleigh – is also about how you start out. Or for those of you more technically minded – the push start.
Since the eve of the 2014/2015 season when he rolled his ankle while jogging on the way to a dentist appointment, Parsons has been playing catch up.
Careful rehab got him through that season before ligament reconstruction surgery the following June aimed to set him right.
Another campaign followed but, despite Parsons recording a third career top-ten finish at the 2016 World Championships in Igls, the 29-year-old was still struggling to get his push start sprint back to previous levels.
Until, it appears, this summer.
“I hadn’t been able to sprint upright on my ankle until the start of this summer,” explained the 2014 Winter Olympian.
“Then half way through the summer, when I started to be able to do serious sprint work, I had people telling me I was looking in good shape.
“Apparently there was a noticeable difference just in how I looked and walked around after getting some good sprint training done.
“It was worrying before, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to sprint upright again without it hurting.
“The training I respond best to is sprint training, without being able to do that for so long my push lost a lot of quality. I was pushing a tenth or two slower.
“I still need to manage it, basically the joint stiffens up now and then. But I’m able to do things more and there’s a huge change.”
There is of course a big difference between being able to sprint fast again and translating that onto the ice.
But the early signs are promising with former 400m runner Parsons topping the timing sheets at the pre-season selection races in Norway, earning his place on the Great Britain World Cup squad in the process.
“I’m feeling pretty confident, the three weeks in Norway I had a pretty good connection with the sled,” said Parsons, who gets his campaign underway in Whistler at the end of November.
“I went from before Sochi being one of the fast pushers where everyone would catch me up down the track, to being one of the slow pushers who had to try and catch everyone else down the track.
"Fingers crossed now I can be the fast pusher and fast down the track.
“I’m hoping it can translate into some podium finishes. Judging by my pushes out in Lillehammer, it was not quite at the same level as my personal best but I was up and mixing it with all the young guys who are coming through.
“For the past year or two I was sitting a significant gap behind them. If I can keep moving that forward, it makes for some fun times this season.”
Pushing for the podium will be high on the agenda for Parsons in what will be the final full season before the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games loom large.
He is not alone in feeling confident for the season either, with GB skeleton performance director Andy Schmid believing the margins to be made up by the Brit are fine ones.
“For Dominic, all he needs is to be a tenth faster than he was in the past,” he said.
“If he is achieving that, and we did a lot of analysing, then he would be quite often on the podium already.
“He is a podium athlete, we just need to support him so that he understands in confidence and hard work, he needs to come closer to the world’s best pushers and then I am sure we will see podium results from him.”
After consecutive seasons of managing his ankle, Parsons could be forgiven for not letting himself think too far ahead – although the lure of another Winter Olympic appearance is drive enough to keep pushing hard.
“After Sochi I took a couple of months to decide what I was going to do. I realised I wasn’t done with skeleton and I was committed to 2018. That’s the focus,” he added.
“Annoyingly sometimes I can’t stop thinking about it, I’m lying in bed thinking about it. My focus is on the details of what we will be sliding down and how I can get down that faster.
“Pre season you have the excitement of being back on the sled again and getting back to sliding habits. But you don’t really get a full gauge of where you’re at until you slide with the rest of the field.
“It’s exciting to be able to find out how the preparations have gone from everyone else and where I sit.”
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