With contributions from Taylor Lindsay-Noel and Don Schram
Team Canada fans know that the next Olympic Games are less than 180 days away in Rio. But if you’re a follower of sports on ice and snow, you’ll also know there’s just two years to the next Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.
And there are plenty of potential medallists based on the number of trips to the podium we’ve seen this season.
Having looked at the speed and skill on the slopes, it’s time to check out what Canadian athletes have done in the sliding and Nordic sports.
The Canadian bobsleigh team is having an incredible start to the season, snatching five gold, one silver and three bronze World Cup medals. At the recent home stop in Whistler, a major highlight came from two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries and brakeman Melissa Lotholz, who slid into first place with a track record. That continued the duo’s run as a podium staple – they’ve won gold at four of the seven World Cup stops this season and finished on the podium in the other three.
The men’s team has also had some standout performances. With brakeman Lascelles Brown, Chris Spring earned his first ever World Cup victory in Whistler in the two-man event. And on the same day that Humphries piloted the first-ever all-female four-man sled in Lake Placid, Justin Kripps piloted his way to his first World Cup four-man podium.
It’s been a breakout season for Jane Channell on the World Cup circuit, with a silver medal in Park City, a bronze medal in Winterberg, and a new start record of 4.84 seconds at the Whistler Sliding Centre where she placed fourth in late January. With no finish out of the top 10, Channell is ranked third in the World Cup standings. This is Channell’s first full World Cup season since committing to skeleton full-time in 2011 and joining the national development team in 2013. Following up on Elisabeth Vathje’s four podiums as a rookie in 2014-15, the future looks bright for Canada’s skeleton prospects.
“For everything to be coming together as well as it has this year is motivating knowing that better is yet to come. Everything I do today is for tomorrow. The first half of the quadrennial was training and developing. This next half is for refinement and piecing my skills together to earn a spot on the Olympic team. I need to stay focused on the process and the results will come.” – Jane Channell
Once again, Alex Gough has been Canada’s bright light in luge, starting the World Cup season with a bronze medal in Innsbruck. Gough is also Canada’s lead-off luger in the team relay, joining Mitchel Malyk, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith to win bronze at the just-held 2016 World Championships. It’s the fourth straight worlds at which Canada hit the podium in the event, making them eager for the opportunity in PyeongChang to improve upon their fourth place finish in Sochi.
The cross-country ski team can boast one podium finish this season. No real surprise that it came from four-time world championship medallist Alex Harvey, who finished second in a 10km event in Ruka, Finland at the end of November. Without a world championship on the schedule this season, the major focus for the Canadians will be the Ski Tour Canada that will cap the World Cup season. The world’s best will be racing in eight events in four venues in two provinces. During the traditional Tour de Ski at the start of the new year, Harvey recorded three top-10 finishes.
“Sochi was quite a disappointment for the cross-country skiing program as a whole so as soon as the closing ceremonies were over, I set my sights on PyeongChang. There was going to be two world championships and a season with World Cup Finals in Canada until the next Olympic Winter Games so really, every season was going to bring its own excitement and high pressure situation. Right now I really try to treat every major competition like it would be the Olympics. For me it’s the best way I can prepare for 2018.” – Alex Harvey
Coming off a career year in 2014-15 in which he became the first Canadian man to win a world championship medal, Nathan Smith has lost little steam this season. Although without a podium in an individual event, he is the top-ranked Canadian in the World Cup standings, bolstered by a sixth place finish in the pursuit in Ruhpolding and a ninth place finish in the sprint in Oestersund. Smith and teammates just had the rare chance to compete in a home World Cup when Canmore hosted its first stop on the circuit in more than 20 years. He’ll get another crack at a world championship medal in early March.
PyeongChang will be Olympic Games number two for female ski jumpers. In 2015 Taylor Henrich became the first Canadian woman to stand on a World Cup ski jumping podium, finishing third twice, in Oberstdorf and Oslo. Thus far this season, she’s posted a top result of fifth in December with hopes of positive things ahead.
In part three we’ll look at how Canadians are doing on ice.