Medal hopefuls in skiing, skeleton look to boost Canada's medal haul

Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth starts her first run of women's skeleton competition. Hollingsworth has her work cut out for her after a pair of disappointing runs on Thursday left her in third place. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

VANCOUVER, B.C. - On Friday, Canada's bid to own the podium will be headed downhill - head first.

Skeleton hopeful Mellisa Hollingsworth has her work cut out for her after a pair of disappointing runs on Thursday left her in third place, four-tenths of a second off the blistering pace set by Amy Williams of Britain.

"I'm disappointed, for sure," said Hollingsworth, 29, from Eckville, Alta. But the winner of the bronze medal in the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, was far from throwing in the towel.

"It's still a close race."

On the men's side, Latvia's Martins Dukurs broke the track record Thursday to take the lead in the men's event, but Jon Montgomery, 30, of Russell, Alta., was right behind him.

Hoping desperately to avoid a head-first finish are Canada's downhill skiers, back in the spotlight and looking for redemption in Friday's men's super-giant slalom, followed by the women's event on Saturday.

The pressure is on: the skiers, usually among Canada's marquee Olympic performers, have been shut out of the medals so far.

"The super-Gs are two big races," said Max Gartner, Alpine Canada's chief athletics officer. "If we don't have any medals after the super-Gs I'm going to get a little worried."

Also getting underway Friday is the ice dancing competition, where Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., will skate the compulsory dance program.

The pair, the reigning world bronze medallists, are arguably Canada's top hope for a figure skating medal in Vancouver.

They're bouncing back after missing most of last season while Virtue recovered from surgery on both of her shins. Were they to win, they would become the youngest pair in Olympic history to collect the gold medal in ice dance.

And at the Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley, the Canadian cross-country skiing team will also be looking for redemption.

All eyes will be on Sara Renner, the 33-year-old veteran from Canmore, Alta., to see if can threaten the big stars from Norway, Poland and Sweden in the 15-kilometre pursuit race.