UQ's own Winter Olympian has nerves of Steele

7 Feb 2014

Given a choice between enjoying the sun and surf or speeding down a hill headfirst at over 120 kph on a sled with no brakes, many of us would opt for the warmth and relative safety of the beach.

Not so for UQ alumna and Sochi Winter Olympian Michelle Steele, who left the world of surf lifesaving to follow her dream of representing Australia in a sport with a name that leaves no one in doubt as to the potential danger faced by its competitors; the Skeleton.

Born in Gladstone, schooled in Bundaberg, and a resident of Brisbane when she is in Australia, Steele graduated with a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy from UQ in 2008.

She said her surf background has been an asset for her and others who made the switch.

"We were transferred from surf lifesaving, most of us were beach sprinters and flaggers, so that fast, explosive short distance speed is what they were looking for with the push start for the Skeleton,” Steele said.

"I also think that being in the water and surfing, and that feeling of oscillating on the wave face, is similar to oscillating on an ice track in terms of forces.”

Steele was the first Australian woman to compete in the sport of Skeleton at a Winter Olympics when she represented Australia in 2006 at Torino, and the first Aussie to win a World Cup Skeleton medal when she earned silver in Nagano in 2007.

Disappointed to miss the team for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Steele’s hard work and determination earned her a place in the Sochi team four years later with the heats to take place on both Day 6 and Day 7 of competition (13-15 February Australian time).

Steele has already sampled Sochi’s course and said it will be a challenge for all competitors.

“I competed on the Sochi track in February (2013) for the test event and it's an unreal track, I really enjoyed it,” she said.

“It is very different to any other track in the world, it's got uphill sections throughout the track, not just in the outrun, so you really need to build speed to carry through those sections, but it's a lot of fun.

"It's not the fastest in the world compared to Vancouver, it was around 145 kph, this will be around 125 kph, but we may not have seen the top speeds on this track yet from what we've trained on.

“The ice could be harder and faster for these races so we will find that out this week in the training days.”