Brown first learnt to steer on one of the toughest skeleton tracks in the world in Latvia. (Supplied)
A Queensland skeleton-racing athlete has set his sights on making the Winter Olympics despite living in a beachside town more than 10,000 kilometres away from the nearest training track.
Sunshine Coast man Elliot Brown, 28, discovered the sport three years ago, and within six months was in Europe tackling the toughest tracks in the world.
But with training facilities lacking in Australia, the paramedic student had to find other alternatives to train and is now preparing to use virtual reality to achieve his Olympic dream.
‘The most exhilarating seconds of my life’
Skeleton racing sees a person ride a small sled, face first, down a twisted frozen track at speeds of up to 140 kilometres an hour.
Despite the high risk of injury and error Brown, a former triathlete and track cyclist, was looking for a new challenge and decided to try out the daring sport after a former coach suggested he transition to a winter event.
“So I looked it up, I went to a camp where we did testing, and literally three weeks later after being selected for the Australian squad I found myself in Latvia,” he said.
“The Latvian track is recognised as the second hardest track in the world, and I remember walking down it for the first time and thinking ‘wow, am I actually going to slide on this?’
“That night I had my first run and I remember my coach at the time just saying ‘don’t try and do anything!’ as I literally had no idea how to even turn.
“But going down it was one of the most exhilarating 45 seconds of my life.
“That’s where I learned the sport and fell in love with it.”
Chasing an Olympic dream
Before long Brown set his next goal as qualifying for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
But as one of less than ten athletes training in the sport in Australia, facilities are limited.
“A challenge of being on the coast is not having a track in Australia and not having enough facilities to train,” he said.
“Other countries that don’t have a skeleton track have push tracks which help you, at least, work on your start. It’d be great if we have one of those, but unfortunately we don’t.
“The only other alternative is very costly as you have to travel to places like Europe to access a track.”
Virtual reality rescue
Luckily for Brown, an interactive media developer from the University of the Sunshine Coast offered a solution using virtual reality technology.
“Skeleton is one of the sports that we’ve looked at with Elliot so that he can set up a video recording from a head-mounted point of view that allows him to control the sled as he’s going down the track,” USC’s Jason Riddell said.
“And this is what we are hoping to put together fully this year, with a couple of our USC students, to create a full app for Elliot to train.”
Elliot Brown wearing a virtual reality headset to practice skeleton racing. (Supplied: Jason Riddell)
Brown said the technology will be a gamechanger for his training.
“Before I was doing a lot of visualisation in my room on my sled, just working through the track in my head, and after a visit to the VR lab I saw that there might be an application to integrate virtual reality into my training,” Brown said.
“They were able to put a track inside a headset which gives me the visual element to my training that I was lacking.”
VR enhancing sport, medicine, tourism
According to Mr Riddell, virtual reality is being utilised in a variety of sport training and even separate tourism and medical fields.
USC interactive media develop Jason Riddell is working to create a virtual reality app to help Elliot Brown train in skeleton racing. (ABC Sunshine Coast: Tara Cassidy)
“There is a lot of research coming out around the use of virtual reality within headsets in hospitals, health care, rehabilitation, sports enhancements, and also in entertainment tourism,” he said.
“The opportunities are endless. But sport is definitely an area where we are seeing it a lot to help enhance athlete training.”
Mr Riddell said the USC team hope to have the app completed this year to help see Brown’s Beijing Olympic dream become a reality.
“We’ve only ever qualified one male for each of the Games we’ve had, so it would be great to try and get some Australian sliders in the top 30 to make the games for the 2022 Olympics,” Brown said.
“My goal is to make that team and be able to represent Australia overseas.”