All that stood between Nathaniel Darrell and competing in Olympics skeleton racing was, well, life.
Darrell made the Canadian Olympic team for the PyeongChang Olympics in Korea, but because of the pressures of maintaining a balanced life, an income and cash on hand to pay for an expensive sport, he had to bow out.
The Oakville, Ont., native who lives in Alberta had been around extreme sports most of his life, with speed and adrenaline being reason enough to capture his interest. He said working at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary gave him the chance to try the sport.
“I had a bit of exposure while working at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary,” he said. “So it made it easier to contact people. Skelton Canada has a pretty good website and social media for being such a small sport so that made it really easy,” Darrell said.
He was lucky he worked for a park that included a skeleton track, only one of four in North America. With so few tracks available, problems rise for those who want to attempt the sport in Canada.
The lack of facilities for skeleton not only hinders opportunity, it reflects the underrated essence of the sport altogether.
In Europe, the advantage is clear. Europeans have more of tracks available for the sport and much of skeleton equipment is made on the continent. Darrell felt it was difficult to get the right equipment as there was no guarantee of proper sizing for him, nor a guarantee of meeting regulation standards.
“I think Europe would have an advantage, it’s a more popular sport over there and have more tracks,” he said. “In North America we only have four tracks. I don’t know the exact number in Europe but certain countries have three tracks just themselves.”
Cost is another big factor for Canadians when they’re are paying more than $5,000 in used equipment. Helmets and a pair of shoes alone cost around $600 each, and for the sleds, Canadians should be prepared to spend thousands.
Darrell said he paid $3,000 for a used sled.
“If you want a new one it starts at $5,000,” he said. “I heard a story about a woman who won in 2014 and she spent $100,000. I’m sure it was custom and she had to pay for the man hours.”
Those costs are scary for anyone trying a new sport with very limited exposure. Forging a career in skeleton is difficult for individual athletes as success is often measured as a team sport.
“If the sport doesn’t do well internationally then money won’t be put into it,” Darrell said. “This is why a guy like (Canadian skeleton racer) Jon Montgomery was great because he brought a lot of attention and money into the program.
“In turn a lot of other athletes were able to develop their skills,” Darrell added.