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Cool customers hope to run rings around competition

BETWEEN them, they have tried their hand at triple-jumping, long-jumping, hurdling, shot-putting and running.

Now a nation will be willing them to succeed as they jump into a gravity-powered sled and hurtle at breakneck speed down a narrow, twisting ice track.

Meet Aoife Hoey (26), from Portarlington, Co Laois, and Dubliner Claire Bergin (25). Together with reserve Leona Byrne they are Ireland's women's bobsleigh team.

With the Winter Olympics about to get under way in Vancouver, they will square up against 20 other teams as they compete for medals in one of the Games' most dangerous sports.

But after a decade of trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport, it is now down to serious business as the Irish bobsleighers prepare to slide.

Aoife, who is bobsleigh pilot and a member of Crusaders AC, is a former triple-jump champion, shot-putter, long-jump and hurdles athlete but she decided to follow her sister Siobhan into the winter sport.

Siobhan, also a former triple-jump champion and accomplished bobsleigher, is Ireland's chef de mission in Vancouver.

Her sister was just 16 when she attended trials in Dublin in 2000 to select a women's team to attend bobsleigh school in Lillehammer, Norway.

But despite being selected, she had to wait her turn because she was too young to compete at the time.

She eventually got her break and in 2001-2002 she raced on the World Cup circuit as brakewoman for the Irish team.

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Following the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City she was given the opportunity to train as sled pilot and has raced in European Cup, World Cup and World Championship events.

"She is probably one of the strongest people mentally that I have ever come across in sport," said Siobhan yesterday.

"I was her brake for five years until I retired from bobsleigh in October 2007."


Aoife's team mate is Claire Bergin of Dundrum South Dublin AC who is enjoying her first full season as bobsleigh brake.

She became interested in the sport after Siobhan Hoey invited her to trials during recruiting for the Irish team.

The former Muckcross School pupil, who has a science degree from DCU, is a former 100/200-metre sprinter; she competed at the world juniors in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2002 and Grosseto, Italy in 2004 and also at the World Student Games in Ismere, Turkey, 2005

Bobsleigh brakewoman for Aoife, her bobsleigh career started in 2008 and she has competed in Europa Cups in Igls, Winterberg, and Altinberg.

Reserve team member Leona Byrne is a former St Leo's School, Carlow pupil and is a former multi-eventer and represented Ireland at the EYOF competition in Paris in 2003.

Also a bobsleigh brakewoman, her bobsleigh career started in 2008 and she has competed in Europa Cups in Igls, Winterberg, and Altinberg.

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