Insane Pain: Thrill of the skeleton

When Jeff Pain describes himself as a Type A personality, he’s not kidding.

After all, the Canadian Olympian and UBC alumnus specializes in the skeleton – a heart-stopping event where racers hurtle face down on ice-coated tracks and reach mind-boggling velocities on specialized sleds that don’t have brakes. Speeds typically range between 110 and 120 kilometres per hour, although Pain notes that the track in Whistler can reach up to a fearsome 145 km-h.

The 39-year-old Pain, who will compete in his third Winter Olympics at Whistler in February, recalls the first skeleton ride he took in November 1994.

“It was exciting for me,” he says, likely with a bit of understatement. “I only know of two reactions. You absolutely hate it and never want to try it again – or you want to do it every day of your life.”

Pain falls into the latter camp, and he’s obviously chosen the right calling. He finished sixth at the Salt Lake City Winter OIympics in 2002 (when skeleton was added as a permanent event) and had a brilliant silver-medal performance at the Torino Games in 2006.

Now, he’s going for gold in 2010 – something that he attributes on his website ( to “an insane desire to be the best.” “Whatever I try, I want to try and do my best,” he explains, whether that includes being a top Olympic athlete, father, husband – or landscaper, which ties into Pain’s UBC past.

He was born in Alaska while his father was there on a job assignment. Shortly after, the family returned to his hometown of Calgary. Pain earned his degree in landscape architecture at UBC in 1994; during that time he also trained in track and field (specializing in high jump) and served on the executive of a social ski club for a few years.

During his track training, Pain considered returning to Calgary to try the bobsleigh once he was finished with school. However, he says he didn’t have the right mentality or body for the event (bobsleigh features teams of participants that huddle together in a large sled). So he opted for the solo sport of skeleton.

It was a wise move. In addition to his Olympic achievements, Pain has won the World Championships twice and the World Cup title twice. For the past year and a half, he’s put aside his landscaping work in Calgary to focus solely on training, his racing schedule and the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Despite his skeleton success, Pain maintains that his involvement in the sport is inspired by more than accolades and attention. “I do what I do not to win or have great results, but instead to discover myself,” he writes on his website. “It does not matter what arena we choose to play in, it only matters what we learn about ourselves along the way.”

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