Daredevil Greek still in the picture

PARK CITY – It all started as a dare for Michael Panayiotis Voudouris, Greece’s only entry for the men’s skeleton at the Salt Lake City Winter Games. He wanted to photograph Julie Walker, the 10-time US national champion, after watching her in action at Lake Placid. She agreed, but only on the condition that he dared to go down the sheer ice track on a bare-bone sled – the skeleton. He took the dare, became hooked and six years later, Voudouris is competing in the breakneck-speed discipline, where sliders hurl themselves down the serpentine head-first on their stomachs at speeds of over 80 mph (130 kph). The burly slider, who goes into action tomorrow, tried to explain the attraction. «You’re speeding in your car along the Autobahn and hit a patch of ice – it’s an electrifying feeling. Now imagine doing that for 52 seconds… it’s wicked,» he said. The 41-year-old holds dual Greek-US nationality and, when not careering down the world’s bobsleigh tracks, earns his keep as an emergency medical technician. For the last nine years, he has been working as part of a team providing medical aid to workers building a water tunnel 850 feet (around 300 meters) below New York City. He also joined in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center, following the September 11 attacks. His sled carries the number 30, in remembrance of his colleagues who died during the recovery operation. «I do skeleton to relax. It’s a matter of concentration and I have a very high threshold for excitement,» said Voudouris. The motivation certainly isn’t financial. Skeleton is making its return to the Olympics for the first time since 1948 in St Moritz. It is also being staged on the same track as the bobsleigh and luge events, rather than on its own, separate course. The absence of Olympic exposure has kept advertisers away, and funding is consequently low. «There’s a number of things I don’t have, compared to the other guys – no funding for practice, for equipment or for coaching,» the New York-born Voudouris said. «I’ve even got to act as my own masseur.»

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