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bobsled driver

Tony Christiansen focuses on bobsled


Tony Christiansen focuses on bobsled

Years sliding around speedway tracks and adventures as diverse as high speed runs on the Bonneville salt flats and rough and tumble off road racing have prepared Tauranga's Tony Christiansen for his next white knuckle ride.

Tony (2nd from left) with Travis Thiele (3rd from left) doing the bobsled at Utah Olympic Park

Tony (2nd from left) with Travis Thiele (3rd from left) doing the bobsled at Utah Olympic Park

The Tauranga city councillor and double amputee inspirational speaker has his need for speed focused on the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Russia, competing in the all-new sport of adaptive bobsled.

Christiansen last weekend flew to the United States, his destination a 10-day driving school at the massive Park City, Utah's Olympic ski resort. He'll receive driver training and control a bobsled at speeds approaching 130km/h on the Olympic run.

The venture began in the winter of 2010 when Christiansen learned to ski. He was at Whakapapa when he met American ski instructor Travis Thiele, who works with the National Ability Centre in the US and their Paralympic team.

After lessons, during which Thiele discovered Christiansen's full speed approach to everything he does, the next step was an invitation to Park City last year to train with the US Paralympic squad.

Zooming down the slopes of Mt Ruapehu

Zooming down the slopes of Mt Ruapehu

While in Utah Christiansen discovered the 2002 Olympic bobsled course and managed to satisfy American bureaucracy that it would be no problem for him to take a run in a four-man bobsled.

"Racing a sprint car is one of most exciting things you can do but the bobsled run was the most exhilarating minute of my life," Christiansen said.

"It's like the most vicious rollercoaster. You are pulling four Gs in the turns and it's banging and clattering all the time through 16 turns. It's an unreal adrenalin rush."

The US authorities drew the line at letting the determined Kiwi try a "head first" skeleton run.

But Christiansen met with a group of enthusiasts who are campaigning to introduce a two-man adaptive bobsled competition as a demonstration sport at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

"They need six countries to be represented to make it a sport. I'm lucky to be in at the ground level and everyone has been extra helpful."

The adaptive bobsled has a full roll cage with the driver strapped in by a five-point race car harness.

"I have to find a pusher who also has some kind of disability," Christiansen said.

"I need someone with a convincing limp who's crazy enough to come with me."

By the end of the driving course Christiansen should have qualified as a bobsled driver. He hopes to travel to Canada later this year to compete for the first time when an adaptive bobsled competition is included in the able-bodied world champs at Calgary.

So where will he train?

"That's the problem everyone has - there are only two Olympic bobsled courses outside of Europe, at Park City and Calgary (so) I suppose I might end up a bit like the Jamaican bobsled team."

Bobsled is another life experience to add to a portfolio that includes a variety of motor racing, flying, skiing and scuba diving interests. "My original thought was that I might have a go at skiing in the Paralympics but I've seen all these amazing young skiers who can do back flips on mono skis, and at 53 I'm never going to be able to do that.

"There's not a lot of finesse about my skiing - with my strength and determination I can do it quite well. But I know I have the skills and reactions to drive a bobsled and age won't be a barrier.

"My experience in motor racing means I feel comfortable being strapped into something and going fast, and the bobsled slides around just like a car."