• Rhys Canterbury Top Kiwi Hope in Olympic Skeleton

    Kiwi corporal Rhys Thornbury of the RAF is one of the New Zealanders taking part over the next fortnight in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea.

    His event is the skeleton, which has nothing to do with bones, other than presenting the very real possibility of breaking some. For all intent and purpose, the event is the same as luge, except that in skeleton, the competitors slide down the course headfirst, rather than feet-first.

    We used to do much the same thing as young lads, but we did not have those sissy helmets to protect our noggins. Admittedly, though, we did not go nearly as fast.

    Thornbury’s regular job is a weapons technician in the British Royal Air Force, that is, he arms airplanes with explosive ordnance.

    The chap seems to thrive on danger.

    He took up the sport of skeleton in 2011 after seeing it advertised in the newspaper.

    He could have competed for the Poms, as he has dual UK – New Zealand citizenship, but he wanted to compete for New Zealand.

    The 28-year-old has been in the RAF for 10 years and must know what he is doing, because of yet, he has not been blown to smithereens.

    As is typical for Kiwis, his early sporting life consisted of chasing a rugby ball and his size is ideal for that sport.

    That size is also good for sliding down steep courses on a flimsy sled, as gravity works in favour of the heavier contestants. Average speeds of 120 kph are encountered.

    “I’ve played rugby all my life,” he said, “and it requires a similar combination of speed and power to skeleton. New Zealand could definitely have an incredible skeleton team if we had the money to tempt the All Blacks off the pitch.”

    Thornbury is actually pretty good at skeleton. In a sport typically dominated by Austrians, Germans and Latvians, he has been scoring some top-ten finishes in recent years.