Yanqing : When Elsa Desmond decided to quit the Great Britain team to race for Ireland and pursue her dream of competing at the Winter Olympics, there was a problem - Ireland did not have a luge federation.

So she sat one up.

Luge first captivated her imagination as an eight-year old watching the 2006 Winter Games from Turin on TV.

Desmond, now 24, fell for the high-speed sport on ice.

''I liked the combination of speed, skill and power,'' she told AFP at the Yanqing National Sliding Center.

''I was a nervous kid, but I saw [luge] athletes, who looked so confident, I wanted to be like that.''

Although born in Buckinghamshire in southern England, Desmond switched from the Great Britain team to Ireland in 2018, qualifying through her grandparents.

She was Ireland's flagbearer in Friday's opening ceremony in Beijing. ''When I left Great Britain, we had no idea what we were doing,'' she said of her efforts which resulted in her founding the Irish Luge Federation in 2020.

''We had to start a company in Ireland, so we have a registered corporation there, it was a lot of work - I had no idea what it was going to be like.

''90 percent of the work has been me, it has been a steep learning curve. I don't regret it for a second, because my career changed once I had the ability to control where I wanted to race.''

The rules prevent her becoming federation president, so her father Brendan has the honorary role.

She estimates that over the last six seasons she has spent around 50,000 pounds [ $67,000 ] on the sport from her own funds, subsidies and donations from her family.

Desmond graduated as a doctor last year and works in general surgery at Southend hospital in Essex.

She describes starting her career during the Covid pandemic as ''brutal, really hard''.

''As a newly qualified doctor, I went straight into an NHS [ National Health Service ] which is at full capacity''.

She is grateful for the months leave that her hospital gave her to prepare for the Beijing Olympics, ''otherwise I wouldn't be here''.

Balancing long work hours with luge training often meant burning the midnight-oil. ''We work a lot of hours. I get up early and stay up late, I use my days off and I don't have much social life,'' she admits.

Her dream of competing at the Winter Winter Olympics will finally come true when the women's heats start Monday, but five days later she will return to work at the hospital.

Desmond knows her medal prospects in Beijing are low, but is using these Olympics to gain experience for the 2026 Winter Games in Milano Cortina.

However she hopes her performances in Beijing inspire other children to take up the sport, just like she did after watching the Turn Olympics 16 years ago.

''That would be amazing. I am just trying to do my best with what I have and if someone else is inspired by that, it would be a dream come true,'' she said [AFP]


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