Reuters - Fri, 19 Feb 07:10:00 2010
Latvia was on course for its first Winter Olympic gold medal as Martins Dukurs blazed a trail down the Whistler track to lead the men's skeleton competition at the midway point.
On a day when the safety of the course was again questioned following a string of crashes in bobsleigh practice, Dukurs nailed two runs down the treacherous 1400 metre layout and smashed the track record on his first slide.
His time of 52.32 seconds was a second faster than the previous record and after following that with a marginally slower drive he led Canadian showman Jon Montgomery by 0.26 seconds going into Friday's decisive third and fourth runs.
Britain's Kristan Bromley insists he is ready to pounce should his medal rivals slip up in the final two runs.
Bromley blitzed his way back into medal contention with a storming second run and after two of the four runs is just 0.05 seconds behind bronze medal position.
"Fast. Crazy fast. This track is amazingly fast. It's so difficult but both my runs were pretty solid. Of course there were mistakes - there are things to fix," Dukurs, whose brother also has a medal shot in sixth, said.
Montgomery, whose helmet is adorned with a mythical thunderbird and a turtle motif after a visit to a shaman last September put him in touch with his wild side, said Dukurs might be difficult to reel in and joked that a lead pipe might by the only answer.
"That might be the only thing to stand in that guy's way between him and a gold," he said.
"He's starting fantastically, driving like a champ. If he beats me tomorrow, he'll have earned it for sure."
Dukurs is coached by his father, former bobsleigh brakeman Dainis, in Sigulda which is home to a crop of track rats, including the Sics brothers, Andris and Juris, who won the silver medal in the luge doubles on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old hopes he can keep his nerve and go one better on Friday.
"I'm physically strong at the moment, so who knows? I hope also mentally I will be strong," he said. "It's difficult but that's the price for the Olympics. If you're last you have no pressure. If you're first you have pressure.
"It's not all about muscles. Mentally I'm ready."
Bromley, just as fiancée Shelley Rudman did in the women's competition, started sluggishly but reeled in the leading pack in his second run and has third-placed Russia's Alexander Tretyakov firmly in his sights.
"I am pretty pumped at the moment and I had a really good second run compared to my first," said Bromley who finished fifth four years ago in Turin.
"I'm in the mix now and I just need to keep fighting away. It's great to move up the table and be within grasp of a medal. It's great to move up the table and be within grasp of a medal.
"Now it is all about being focused it is a real mental game now.
"It will all be on the final run tomorrow. When the pressure starts to build people start to buckle, and I'm hoping to capitalise on that. Fingers crossed we can pull something out tomorrow.
"There are some young sliders in front of me who are prone to making mistakes and I am hoping that their inexperience and my experience will play into my hands.
Meanwhile, there was no such luck for fellow Brit Adam Pengilly, who finished 17th and 22nd in his two heats to lie 20th overnight.
The 32-year-old, like Amy Williams, is the current world silver medallist but while his female compatriot tops the women's leaderboard after two heats, Pengilly admitted he is well off the pace in Whistler. "It was a disappointing day today. I need to collect my thoughts now and try to start again tomorrow, he said.
"I'm a long way off the pace, but hopefully I can show people I'm a better slider than the results suggest and should be higher up the field."
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