Winter Olympics: Rhys Thornbury opens up about 'nightmare' final Skeleton run in Pyeongchang

An emotional and disappointed Rhys Thornbury has opened up to Newshub about his "nightmare" final run in the skeleton event at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

A week or so ago he was unknown to many Kiwis, but his story was an interesting one - a weapons expert with the British military who devoted himself to the sport of skeleton and getting to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

He talked to media openly on his arrival about how excited he was to be wearing the silver fern, and how he harboured top 10 ambitions following an encouraging run at recent world cups.

The skeleton is conducted over four runs, and those with the lowest cumulative times win the medals.

The 28-year-old Thornbury was eighth after the first two heats, and upbeat about his chances on day two. He wanted improvement, and he did just that moving to seventh going into the very last heat. He wasn't a medal contender, but he was eyeing up a career-best performance.

But then, as he puts it, came "the nightmare" - he popped his sled out of the grooves at the start of his final run, and there was no coming back. He posted a 52.14s - a massive two seconds slower than his best time, and he finished in 14th place.

Speaking to Newshub after the race, Thornbury was still clearly emotional and unable to hold back the tears. In his words, he knew family, friends and people at home were watching and cheering him on, and he let them down.

"I know in a few days I can walk away and be happy with the three runs I did do great, and the training runs I did great," he said.

"Sitting in seventh place I felt great, I felt proud, everyone was behind me, everyone's words of support were great.

Rhys Thornbury.
Rhys Thornbury. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I'm upset. It's been a long time, a lot of years of hard work and it all fell apart at the last minute."

The interview is a tough watch, but he shows he cares. He knows that skeleton barely makes it on television back home, and he was so keen to do the sport and himself proud.

"I didn't want to stay in seventh, I was pushing for sixth or fifth.

"Skeleton is a competitive sport and I was wanting to compete as much as I can. I don't go into any race or any run to stay where I am.

"The sled came out of the groove. Maybe I was pushing it too hard, maybe I was putting too much weight on the sled, maybe I wasn't pushing it straight.

"I haven't watched the push or the run but it can come out so easily, and but it doesn't happen often but it happens. I gave it everything and I rolled those dice and it didn't pay off - but that's life."

On a much more practical level, his 14th finish also has major ramifications for his funding.

He says he is not paid "rock star" wages by the military and needs other funding sources such as High-Performance Sports New Zealand to enable him to do what he does.

While he lives just out of London to be a full-time skeleton racer he has to base himself in Calgary, Canada, which doesn't come cheap.

The powers that be will now decide if that funding will continue and that could well decide if Thornbury continues in the sport. Clearly, he has some ability - he was competitive against the world's very best all the way until that last run.

Thornbury says the World Cup circuit doesn't get underway until November so he has some time to work out what he'll do, but right now it hurts - it hurts a lot.


David Di Somma is in Pyeongchang covering the Winter Olympics for Newshub. 

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