Rin Kinoshita hopes for an Olympic podium in skeleton

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Rin Kinoshita is a 20-year-old competing in what many consider to be the most intimidating winter Olympic sport – skeleton.

Sliding athletes start running and plunge headfirst down an ice downhill track on a tray the size of a torso. Only two thin, rail-like runners keep the slide in the right direction.

With the chin only a few centimeters above the ground, the participants reach speeds of over 130 km / h while shooting meter high in banked turns. Racers steer with the slightest shift in weight by using their shoulders and knees.

Make no secret of it, this is not a sport for the faint of heart and skeleton requires more than the courage and willingness to plunge down a hill at breakneck speed.

“It’s like a roller coaster ride and there’s the thrill of speed,” Kinoshita said in a recent interview.

Skeleton performed at two Olympic Games, in 1924 and 1948 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, before finally returning to Salt Lake City in 2002. In addition to bobsleigh and tobogganing, it is one of the three sliding disciplines.

Although skeletal accidents occur, they are rare. Of the 376 injuries reported in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics and 391 injuries reported in the Sochi 2014 Olympics, no “serious” injuries were sustained by skeleton athletes, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Risk aside, Kinoshita is excited to see how far his new success will take him in 2022.

It took the Sendai University student some time to get on the right track and unexpected circumstances brought him to the sport.

Kinoshita is from Ishinomaki, a fishing port town in Miyagi Prefecture. When he was in third grade, his home was torn away in the massive tsunami triggered by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake in eastern Japan in March 2011.

While living in an emergency shelter, his mother applied for a job to find talent and recruit people with the potential to distinguish themselves as elite pushers. In a sport where high-performing former sprinters can hold their own, her son was a good fit.

He loved the sport quickly and today, with a height of 179 centimeters and a muscular 85-kilogram frame, says Kinoshita, that his “explosive power” at the thrust start is his greatest asset.

His trainer, Ryosuke Shindo, says Kinoshita’s skills make him an outlier compared to previous Japanese skeleton competitors who were considered fast and believes he might be good enough to someday be near the top of the sport stand.

In October, Kinoshita proved that at least some of the praise was warranted. He achieved the fifth best starting time overall in his second run at the Olympic test event in China at the Yanqing National Sliding Center.

The event was the first international competition on the newly constructed venue for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge at the upcoming winter games.

The push start, however, is only part of the puzzle that competitors need to solve. Kinoshita struggled to get the track under control, finished 26th overall and now has a lot of homework to do.

But he feels he has plenty of time to turn things around and achieve his goal of an Olympic podium, as Beijing is just a pit stop on the way to his main goal – the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d ‘Ampezzo.

“I want to get a feel for the Olympic trials, go to the Beijing Games and bring all of that experience to Milan,” he said.

“I am aiming for the Olympics for the first time. I will fight as an outsider. “

A total of 50 quota places, 25 per gender, are available to athletes to qualify for the skeleton competition at the Beijing Games, which are scheduled to begin on February 4th. Only two gold medals can be won in this discipline, one for men and one for women.

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