Aberdeen AAC’s international track runner Kelsey Stewart has her sights set on competing at the Olympic Games – but not in athletics.
The 24-year-old Stonehaven-based athlete has been national women’s 400m champion on two occasions and was an unused member of Scotland’s 4x400m relay squad at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
But injuries and the Covid pandemic have curtailed her progress over the past couple of years.
Now she has decided to switch focus and try her hand at the adrenaline-charged winter sport of skeleton racing.
Competitors ride face-down and head-first along a downhill frozen track, reaching speeds of up to 80mph.
Stewart said: “Earlier this year someone told me that the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association was recruiting athletes from a range of sports, so I decided to apply, although I didn’t expect anything to happen.
“The skeleton is something I’ve always followed. I watched it at previous Winter Olympics and thought I might want to try it at some point. I’m a bit nuts that way.
“I also knew that quite a few athletes had gone into bobsleigh in the past and have done quite well.
“I felt it was an opportunity not to be missed and if I let it pass by I’d probably regret it. I’d got to the point where I wasn’t really enjoying my athletics so much, so the timing was right.”
Stewart submitted her application in March and was soon invited to take part in a series of training exercises at the BBSA training centre in Bath.
She said: “I’ve been down to Bath five times since March for various trials and tests on the push-track there. It’s a dry version of an ice track. Basically, it’s like a rollercoaster and you go on a metal tray which runs on rails.
“One of the first things they did was show us a video of skeleton crashes, just to make us aware of what we were letting ourselves in for. It’s not the safest of sports, but that’s what makes it exciting.”
Stewart impressed the coaches and has now been propelled into the final stages of being accepted onto a funded full-time training programme geared towards the 2026 Winter Olympics.
She said: “The assessments that came back were very positive and I’m through to the next level. To begin with there were 50 girls in contention, but that has now been whittled down to six.
“However, there are only four places available on the funded programme, so two of us will miss out. It’s going to be tough, because there’s really nothing between any of us at the moment.
“So, I’m now back in Bath for more training, then we’ll go to Norway for three weeks at the beginning of November.
“When we’re over there, we’ll be testing out on ice for the first time, so we’ll see how that goes. It depends who shows up best and a decision will be taken after that as to which of us will be accepted onto the full-time programme.
“I fully appreciate that I might not get through and, even if I do get through, it’s possible to be dropped at any point if you don’t reach the targets set for you. But I’m looking forward to giving it a go.”
Stewart’s speed as a sprinter is obviously a useful asset for the skeleton, in which races begin with a running start from an opening gate at the top of the course.
But she is quick to emphasise that there is much more involved.
She said: “It’s good to have a sprint background, but I know I need to do a lot of technical work as well. I also need to get stronger, so there’s a lot of gym work to be done.
“I’m excited about it, but if it doesn’t work out I can always come back to athletics. At the end of the day, I feel this is going to make me stronger and faster, so there’s absolutely nothing to be lost.”
Aberdeen parkrun record falls as Ginie Barrand sets new mark
Ginie Barrand (Metro Aberdeen) marked the return of the Aberdeen parkrun 5k last weekend by setting a women’s course record of 16min 50 secs for the beach promenade course – and finishing ahead of all the men.
The Banchory athlete, who is preparing for October’s London marathon, showed no lack of speed as she cut 14 secs off the previous mark held by her clubmate Nicola Gauld since February 2012.
Rankin Lascelles (Metro Aberdeen), who was first finisher when the Aberdeen parkrun was last held, in March 2019, had to settle for second position overall from a field of 319 in 17:16. Michael Barker (Stonehaven Running Club) was third in 17:39.
Aberdeen University’s Margarita Radeva, taking part in her first parkrun, was second woman in 18:55.
Aberdeen AAC’s Hannah Mutch, who has a record 68 first place finishes to her credit, was third in 19:48.
Allan Christie (Metro Aberdeen), winner of the Dundee half marathon, was first at the Hazlehead parkrun in 16:44, with Elaine Wilson leading the women’s field home in a PB 21:30.
Ian Allen from Leamington’s Spa Striders was first at Ellon in 16:23, while Ruth Pirie (Turriff Running Club) was the best woman in 20:16.
Richard Strachan (JS Kintore), 16:44, led the way at Inverurie’s Ury Riverside, where youngster Rhian Birnie led the women’s division in a PB 20:19.
At Stonehaven, Craig Anderson (Metro Aberdeen) was first in 20:33, while Ishbel Howorth was quickest woman in 23:44.
Iain Manson (Metro Aberdeen) took top spot at Crathes Castle, 19:02, where Sarah Hodgkinson, 23:06, was first woman.
Just over 1,000 people took part in the north-east’s six parkruns.