Sean Greenwood dusts himself down and goes back for more
Russian crowd applaud Irish slider
Ireland’s Sean Greenwood. Photograph: Ian McNicol/Inpho
There’s no such thing as an empty gesture, not in skeleton. You do or you do not. You’re either in the suit and helmet, a human missile aimed at the bottom of the run, or you’re a normal member of society. By now, Sean Greenwood is back in the land of the latter but the stones it took to give himself one last shot at the former won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
He spent Friday evening in Hospital 8, the purpose-built mountain medical centre in Krasnaya Polyana that has spent the first fortnight of its existence setting the bones of some of the world’s best athletes. It was midnight before they let him go after four hours of scans and tests to check what ill-effects lingered after a 119kph crash during his second run at the Sanki Sliding Centre.
Only when they were satisfied that he’d done no lasting damage did they let him go. “At that point, I had completely written off going down it again,” he says.
Little wonder. Scary as Greenwood’s crash was to watch on Friday night, scarier still was the knowledge of how close he had come to being seriously injured. The wipe-out on corner nine was the result of him pushing too hard to make up for a disappointing first run. That it ended with bumps and bruises only was a matter of his golden ticket coming out of the draw drum.
“I really wanted to get into the top 10 and I really thought I could do it. You take the risk and sometimes it doesn’t come off.
Started to unravel
“I was flying. I had my best push probably ever and I had my best top six corners that I have probably ever done. I was really going well. I was keeping my head down and really letting it go. And then basically it started to unravel a bit on corner seven and then nine was a total circus.”
On corner seven, his momentum took him about 18 inches too high. On that ice, at that speed, any correction is magnified and multiplied. His effort to get back on the right racing line took him too far, with the knock-on effect that by corner nine, he had lost control. His right side hit the top of the track, causing him to come off his sled and bounce hard on the floor.
“This track is so tightly wound together that if you make one mistake, especially from corner six to corner 11, there’s a chain reaction to any mistake the whole way down and there’s basically no way out if you go wrong. My hip and my arm on my left side are sore because they’re what I fell on when I came out of that corner. I dropped from about four or five feet at a really high speed and the sled landed on top of me.
“It’s surreal more than anything. You’re flying through the air not really believing that this is actually happening. And then you’re trying to hold on as tightly as you can to the sled and trying to get back on. So yeah, it was a wild ride but I was happy to get back on and get down to the finish. I was lucky to be able to do that.”
To watch him afterwards was to see a man in complete shock. One of the Sochi volunteers tried to point him towards the media area and he looked at her as though she were speaking in tongues. He was dazed and kept shaking his head as if to clear it.
The crash meant he was in last place after the second run, five seconds down on second last and with no chance of catching him. Not a single eyebrow would have been raised if he’d pulled out – his excuse was ready and waiting and rock solid. He took his time on Saturday to decide but with three hours to spare, he reached for his helmet.
“I had a look through what I wanted to accomplish and asked myself whether I could live with myself if I didn’t do the third run. At the end of the day, I knew I couldn’t so I went out and did it.”
Well, you don’t have to – that’s the thing. And yet he did, beating four other guys to the bottom as well. When he finished, the Russian crowd that was itchily waiting for their man to go and win gold (which he did), took time to applaud the Irish slider who’d taken what the track had thrown at him and come back for more.
You do or you do not. Sean Greenwood did.