Olympic luger Kim McRae takes aim at 2018 with flying hands and feet

CALGARY — Kim McRae intends to break a lot of boards with her feet on the road to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The Canadian luger has taken up the national sport of the country where she hopes to stand on the Olympic podium. McRae feels taekwondo’s mental discipline, strength and balance can help her slide faster in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Her bare feet flying off the mats at a southwest Calgary gym is a stark contrast to her typical day of sliding down an icy outdoor track.

“I got into taekwondo to help with co-ordination and overall body awareness,” McRae said Tuesday. “That’s my biggest issue on the sled. I wanted to enhance that and make it better.

“I can’t wait to see the difference it will make on my sled.”

The 23-year-old from Victoria, now based in Calgary, was fifth at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, behind Canadian teammate Alex Gough in fourth.

What was a breakthrough result for McRae also signalled Canada has depth in sport historically dominated by German women. McRae had five top-10 finishes but was held off the World Cup podium in 2014-15.

“After Sochi, it was a tough time for me mentally. I was coming out of a bit of depression. Just a whole bunch of family things came together at once,” she said without elaborating.

“This year I’m looking forward to going into the season and being ready.”

After watching her six-year-old twin cousins in a taekwondo class, McRae took her first class with instructor Seoung Min Rim in March and quickly progressed to her orange belt.

“Because she’s an Olympic athlete, she learns very quickly and progresses extremely fast,” Rim said.

As much as McRae was curious about the martial art, Rim went looking for information about his new student’s sliding sport.

“After having Kim as a student, I looked up more and studied more and got to know more about luge,” Rim said. “Very interesting and looks very scary.”

A native of Seoul, Rim intends to return to South Korea and watch McRae compete in 2018.

“I told her we are going to go and ‘you have to work hard to be on the podium,'” he said. “A little bit of stress, yes.”

McRae intends to continue with taekwondo and progress to higher belts.

“It will mostly be during the summer so I’m able to fit that into our training schedule,” she said. “I do only come once a week instead of twice or three times like most students do. So it’s a lot of practice at home.”

She’s tried kickboxing “but it’s a little too intense for me,” she said.

“I wanted to do taekwondo because it’s more the mental side. It’s just as hard, but it’s less painful on the hands and feet.”

It’s painful enough as McRae required a bandage on her ankle after splitting a stack of boards with her heel Tuesday.

“It’s pretty intense actually,” she said. “I was pretty nervous the first one I ever broke. Three today was kind of surprising.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press