Death-defying winter sport

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Thousands of miles from the Olympics in Vancouver, on the streets of Ukraine's capital, there's another, death-defying winter sport taking place. Walking down a Kiev sidewalk these days is like buying a lottery ticket to the hospital. Pedestrians pick their way across sheets of ice that are slick as oil, polished by thousands of feet. Brigid McCarthy reports from Kiev.

KATY CLARK: Thousands of miles from the Winter Games in Vancouver there's another death defying winter sport taking place on the streets of Ukraine's capital. Brigid McCarthy reports from Kiev.

BRIGID MCCARTHY: Walking down a Kiev sidewalk these days is like buying a lottery ticket to the hospital. Pedestrians pick their way across sheets of ice that are slick as oil, polished by thousands of feet. Everyone I know has fallen at some point. And yet, down these sidewalks, striding briskly and with style, come elegant women in high heeled boots. Not just high heels, these are stratospheric heels, space-needle heels. To my eye, these are true, world class athletes on ice.

MARTYN HINDLEY: We're looking for height as well as balance, speed and finesse.

MCCARTHY: That's Martyn Hindley, a British sportscaster who's in town this week. We're standing on Kiev's Independence Square for the daily stiletto slalom.

HINDLEY: So perhaps the most difficult point in the course now, the point which really does meet heavy slush with heavy ice.

MCCARTHY: Judging from the level of competition though, these are the preliminary rounds.

HINDLEY: It really looks like she's forcing it from the knees. Now let's describe the footwear here. It's a very, very thin stiletto and it's also coming from quite a height. It looks like she's got some ankle support, but she's sliding along. This is almost a penguin's style of ascent. It's a good attempt, its good style of boot, it's not good style of athleticism there.

MCCARTHY: It's really hard, she says, the only reason I'm wearing these boots is because I have to for a business meeting.

HINDLEY: To anybody who's tried to navigate this course in conventional footwear with large treads, it seems extraordinary that somebody can try and do this.

MCCARTHY: These are my little ones, this athlete says. I have other stilettos that are almost seven inches high. Her friend adds, I've tried wearing flat soled shoes, but they're just not comfortable because my feet are so used to high heels. And like all world class competitors, these athletes start training early. She says, as soon as girls here turn 13 or 14 they go up on the heels. It's a tradition here.

HINDLEY: Now this is a quite amazing gold medalist course here because we have somebody who's in the shortest of stilettos, but is moving at an incredible velocity. We've got style, we've got purpose, we've got just about everything here. She's going for a bit of width, a bit of grip there, but some of it's come off. Some of that stiletto has come off on the turf. That's absolutely extraordinary. So we've had pace, but she'll probably be walking quite awkwardly now. The bottom of the right stiletto heel has caught in a crack. There was a look of disdain towards the ground from the competitor as she lost her heel on the right hand side and that will cost style points further on.

MCCARTHY: That's probably not all it will cost, but these competitors are tough. I've broken my foot twice, this woman says. But as soon as it's healed, I've gotten right back in my heels. A man standing nearby sees our microphone and approaches.

MALE VOICE 1: And they can run faster than us men.

HINDLEY: Now we have friends competing against each other. We have one who is almost so forceful with very, very thin legs on the right hand side, but still able to generate a lot of power and precision through stilettos that are remarkably thin. Now she's looking for a degree of difficulty that hasn't been seen before, certainly not in this competition. And she's trying to actually climb on marble. Now this is a very new trick, trying to pirouette closely to actually sit on the marble top. That is really terrific stuff. Perhaps already she has done enough for gold. Zelataya Diabushka, the golden woman in this winter event.

MALE VOICE 2: It's beautiful and we like it. Male like it.

MCCARTHY: Which, I suppose is the ultimate prize. For The World, I'm Brigid McCarthy in Kiev, Ukraine.