LAKE PLACID, N.Y.—Competing in just her second World Cup skeleton race ever, Canada’s Mirela Rahneva rocketed to the bronze medal where her career began three years ago – in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“It is absolutely surreal. I can’t believe it,” beamed the 28-year-old Rahneva, who locked up her first career medal with a two-run time of 1:50.92 on a snowy and frigid morning at the track.
Nicknamed Mimi, the pint-sized Ottawa resident was sitting in fourth spot after her first blast down the punishing 1,455-metre track that snakes its way down Mount Van Hoevenberg. Explosive off the block, Rahneva posted one of the fastest start times in her second run and held onto her spot in the top-four, but jumped onto the podium after a dismal second run by Germany’s Anna Fernstaedt.
“I just wanted to flow through the track today,” said Rahneva, who juggles a catering job at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park with sliding to help pay the bills. “I didn’t have the greatest start in my first run, but I just tried to maintain my focus and stay relaxed on the sled. I couldn’t believe it when I moved into third. I’m now right there with the top girls in the world.”
Rahneva set a start record en route to a fifth place finish at her World Cup debut in Whistler two weeks ago.
“I learned in Whistler how important the mental side of the game is and how much it plays into things on the World Cup,” said Rahneva. “I worked really hard on that this week. I went for a green tea latte, went for walk down the main street of Lake Placid and just tried to clear my head, relax and focus.”
Rahneva now joins a long list of legendary Canadian skeleton athletes who boast countless Olympic, World Championship and World Cup medals that includes: Duff Gibson, Jon Montgomery, Mellisa Hollingsworth, Jon Montgomery, Michelle Kelly, Lindsay Alcock, Deanna Panting, Sarah Reid, Darla Deschamps, Paul Boehm, John Fairbairn, along with her current teammates Elisabeth Vathje and Jane Channell.
“On the podium, I remember thinking I’m standing beside the Olympic champion from Sochi. It really is surreal.”
She most certainly was. Lizzy Yarnold, of Great Britain, finished just ahead of Rahneva in second at 1:50.58. Austria’s Janine Flock won the gold medal on Saturday with a time of 1:49.77.
Calgary’s Elisabeth Vathje, who won the season opener, rebounded after a difficult opening run to post the third fastest time in the second heat for eighth place overall at 1:51.44. Jane Channell, of North Vancouver, slid to 16th spot at 1:51.88.
It has been an incredible ride for Rahneva since joining the national program in 2014.
A former rugby player at the University of Guelph where she was in tourism management, Rahneva decided to take her raw speed to the skeleton track after meeting two-time Olympic bobsleigh medallist Heather Moyse while competing on Canada’s rugby sevens squad.
Immediately hooked on the sport following a Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton recruitment camp, Rahneva left her job as a wedding planner to chase an Olympic dream sparked by her parents who immigrated to Canada from Bulgaria.
Her dad Stoyan was a competitive acrobatic gymnast. Her mom Valentina, who was trackside on Saturday, was an elite sprinter.
“It was so great to have my mom here today with me. We are going to drive back to Ottawa together for the holidays and I’m so excited for that,” said Rahneva. “I just feel so privileged to have this opportunity to represent Canada.”
Top-Five Women’s and Canadian Skeleton Results:
- Janine Flock, AUT, 1:49.77; 2. Lizzy Yarnold, GBR, 1:50.58; 3. Mirela Rahneva, Ottawa, CAN, 1:50.92; 4. Anna Fernstaedt, GER, 1:50.96; 5. Jacqueline Loelling, GER, 1:50.97
Other Canadian Results:
- Elisabeth Vathje, Calgary, 1:51.44; 16. Jane Channell, North Vancouver, 1:51.8