WINTERBERG, Ger.—The Canadian flag was raised high above the gold and bronze medal steps of the women’s World Cup skeleton podium, thanks to Elisabeth Vathje and Mirela Rahneva on Sunday in Winterberg, Germany.
With heavy snow putting the race in jeopardy, the Canadians showed “We are Winter” with Calgary’s Vathje and Ottawa’s Rahneva each sliding to the podium for the second time this season.
Vathje slid to a golden time of 58.02, while Rahneva clocked-in at 58.14 for the bronze in the weather-shortened one-run race. Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling was second at 58.12.
“It is pretty cool and surreal to be back on top of the podium,” said Vathje, whose mom Rita made the trip to be trackside to celebrate the win. “I love coming to Winterberg and have always enjoyed this track. I had an inkling that I could win here today, even though Jacqueline (Lolling) is incredible on this track. We always have a great battle here.”
Competing for the first time ever in Winterberg, Canada’s 28-year-old World Cup rookie Mirela Rahneva blasted to a bronze medal of her own. Clocking the second-fastest start time on the relatively flat 15-corner track, Rahneva posted a time of 58.14.
“I fell in love with the track on our first track walk we did here this week. It is a smooth track with nice rhythm. It was a crazy race today, but it was a great feeling racing. I was picturing both Liz and I on the podium. It was magical to see the two Canadian flags raised today.”
It is the second podium for the hard-working Rahneva in just her fourth race. Her first podium in Europe, she also slid to the bronze at a World Cup stop in Lake Placid just prior to the holiday break.
“I had a rough week in Altenberg, but I knew it was important to stay strong and positive. It was nice to come here and do well,” added Rahneva. “I must have visualized 100 runs this week and continuously practiced laying on my sled. To be able to materialize it on the track is a great feeling.”
Another Canadian feeling good vibes these days is Vathje. After a breakout rookie season two years ago where she exploded onto the World Cup scene with a gold, three silvers and a bronze at World Championships, the 22 year old is now flying once again after experiencing a sophomore slump last season.
“I think I just have a lot more peace of mind this year. Coming off that first year, I was like ‘I like that podium I can do this,’ and then last year I just had a lot of uneasiness,” said Vathje, who also won the season-opening race in Whistler. “I have a great support team. I want to compete at my highest level every week, and I’ve now realized if that is 14th great, but if it is a podium then even better.
“I love sport, but I’m comfortable knowing there is more to life than skeleton and that has put me in a really good place that I’ll be loved no matter what I do on the track.”
North Vancouver’s Jane Channell finished in 12th spot at 58.86 despite putting down the fastest start time in the field.
It was the first time in four years that two Canadian skeleton athletes shared the World Cup podium. Once a regular occurrence on the elite skeleton circuit in the early 2000s, the last two Canadians to reach the podium together were Sarah Reid and Mellisa Hollingsworth when they finished one-two in Lake Placid during the 2012-13 campaign.
“It’s awesome to have two of us on the podium and really shows the depth of our program,” said Vathje, who added all three athletes continue to pay thousands of dollars out of their pockets to do the sport they love for Canada. “I really hope we can get Jane up there on the podium with us. All three of us are forces to be reckoned with. We love this sport and our country so much so it is awesome to show our depth.”
Old Man Winter sent race officials into frenzy on Sunday. The race was originally stopped due to heavy snow after the first seven sleds went down the track. Officials planned to call the race off, but after a lengthy delay, the weather cleared, and a one-run race was re-started from scratch.