WHISTLER, B.C.—Elisabeth Vathje stood on top of the podium and bellowed out O Canada after finally conquering the Whistler Sliding Centre track where she won the season-opening BMW IBSF Skeleton World Cup race on Friday afternoon.
The 22-year-old Calgarian put down the fastest two runs in both trips down the lightening-quick 16-corner track in Whistler, B.C., to capture the second World Cup victory of her career with a time of 1:49.25.
“I am absolutely speechless. I have struggled here for so long and today I fell in love with this track,” said Vathje, whose first World Cup win came in Calgary during her rookie season. “I felt like an eagle out there. I really just felt like I had wings and was floating down the track. I am beyond thrilled.”
Vathje shared the podium with two German athletes. Jacqueline Loelling was second at 1:50.09, while last year’s winner – Tina Hermann – snagged the bronze with a time of 1:50.11.
“I have never been comfortable on this track, but we are hosting the 2019 World Championships here so last March I came here for the month and didn’t leave until I figured it out. I just felt like I had so much freedom out there today. It was an awesome feeling,” added an emotional Vathje, who jumped into her mom’s arms once crossing the finish line.
Vathje exploded onto the World Cup scene two years ago when she won a silver medal in her first World Cup start in Lake Placid. She backed that up the following week by winning in Calgary, and added two more silvers on the World Cup along with a bronze at the 2015 World Championships before closing the chapter on her rookie memorable season.
But the rising star suffered a sophomore slump last year where she found herself on the back-end of the top-10 for most of the season.
“I think last year I came out and just figured I was going to keep winning,” said Vathje. “I had to change a lot this summer, and none of it would have been possible without a large support group. We had a science experiment to put on weight last year that didn’t work. I got much lighter this summer and feel better all-around, but most importantly I realized the work that it takes to stay on the podium. I now set goals and focus on achieving those.”
Speaking of Canadian rookies turning heads. Ottawa’s Mirela Rahneva introduced herself to the world on Friday with a stellar fifth-place finish in her World Cup debut after clocking a two-run time of 1:50.58.
“I’m beyond excited. I really wanted to get into the top-five, and it is absolutely amazing to accomplish that goal,” said Rahneva.
The 28-year-old, who cracked the World Cup squad this year after learning her craft on the development circuits over the last three years, shattered the track start record in Whistler at 4.79 in her second run down the 1,450-metre icy chute.
“I like to take a deep breadth right before my run. I did that tonight and felt awesome. I listened to my coach Quinn, and just kept my knees together and exploded off the block.
“I think I was the dark horse today. I know I have a decent push compared to the rest of the girls and I tend to lose that time going down the track, but today it all just came together,” added Rahneva. “I don’t feel I’m a target at all. I’m definitely just trying to keep up to these girls. I have so much respect for all of them and I’m going to keep trying to get better.”
North Vancouver’s Jane Channell struggled in her first run, and finished 16th at 1:51.46.
The World Cup continues on Friday night with the men’s two-man bobsleigh races.