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Skeleton Racer Heads For The Winter Olympics

13 February 2002

Backed By Bendon, Skeleton Racer Heads For The Winter Olympics

New Zealand skeleton racer Liz Couch will this week join the Winter Olympics Camp in Salt Lake City, fulfilling a dream and becoming the first Kiwi woman to compete at this level in the sport. It will also be the first time in more than 50 years that skeleton racing is featured as an Olympic sport

Couch, who is sponsored by Bendon Limited, began her bid to qualify for the Winter Olympics in October 2000. With the support of Bendon Limited, Couch has spent much of the last 16 months on the Skeleton World Cup circuit in pursuit of her goal. She qualified for the Olympics after finishing second at a race in Germany last week.

Skeleton racing is the oldest competitive sled racing sport in the world. It dates back to the 1800s and was a Winter Olympic sport until 1948. Not for the faint-hearted, the sport involves throwing yourself downhill head first on an open "skeleton" sled, at speeds of 110 to 130 km/h. Howard George, Bendon Limited's New Zealand general manager, says the company is delighted Liz Couch has qualified for the Winter Olympics. "Liz is the embodiment of the Bendon spirit and we have been 100% behind her all the way," George says. "Liz's ambition to be a sporting pioneer has now paid off, and we wish her every success in the competitions."

Liz Couch is due to race on February 20, 9am Salt Lake City time (early am, February 21 NZ time). Couch says she is thrilled to be competing. "It's the most amazing feeling in the world. It really feels unreal and it hasn't even begun yet. I can't wait," she says.

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Posters of Liz racing downhill will appear in the windows of Bendon on Broadway, Sanctuary by Bendon and the company's seven Bennett & Bain stores from this Friday 15 February. As well, customers will have the chance to add their name to a message of support, which the company will send to Liz just before her race.

Liz Couch took up skeleton racing in 1999 after answering a newspaper advertisement seeking "athletic women with attitude". Four women, two bobsleigh and two skeleton, were chosen to attend a winter camp in Calgary. Couch flew throough the training and one week later competed in her first world cup race. Six weeks later she was ranked 15th in the world.

Skeleton racing takes its name from the type of sled used, which is considered to be the backbone or "skeleton" or other sliding sports like bobsleighing. In skeleton racing, the slider wears a skintight rubber suit to increase aerodynamics and a helmet with a chin guard to protect the face, which is a mere two inches off the ice track. The rider negotiates the curved ice track by using subtle shifts in body weight and positioning.

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