With plenty of past Olympic podiums, Canada is certainly no slouch when it comes to the sliding sports of bobsleigh and skeleton.
But recent World Cup and world championship success also provides great reason for optimism for both disciplines heading into PyeongChang 2018.
Who is competing?
Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton announced its World Cup teams on November 1:
Pilots (women): Kaillie Humphries, Alysia Rissling, Christine De Bruin
Brakemen (women): Melissa Lotholz, Cynthia Appiah, Catherine Medeiros, Kristine Bujnowski, Phylicia George
Women: Mirela Rahneva, Elisabeth Vathje, Jane Channell
Men: Barrett Martineau, Dave Greszczyszyn, Kevin Boyer
When and where are they competing?
There are eight pre-Olympic stops on this season’s IBSF World Cup circuit, each of which includes men’s and women’s skeleton as well as men’s two-man, women’s two-man, and four-man bobsleigh races.
November 9-10 – Lake Placid, New York
November 17-18 – Park City, Utah
November 24-25 – Whistler, British Columbia
December 8-10 – Winterberg, Germany
December 15-17 – Igls, Austria
January 5-7 – Altenberg, Germany
January 12-14 – St. Moritz, Switzerland
January 19-21 – Königssee, Germany
How do they qualify for PyeongChang 2018?
In a sport in which sliders can reach speeds up to 150km/hr, safety is hugely important. For bobsleigh pilots and skeleton athletes to be eligible for PyeongChang 2018, they must have varied competition experience. This means being ranked in a minimum of five races on at least three different tracks since October 2016, including three races on two tracks during this upcoming season before the Olympic qualification window closes on January 14.
Results achieved by each pilot/skeleton athlete in World Cup, Europe Cup, North American Cup or Intercontinental Cup (skeleton only) races before that close date will be used to create an IBSF Ranking List for each event.
In bobsleigh, the men’s two-man and four-man events will feature 30 crews while the women’s two-man will have 20 crews. The skeleton events will include 30 men and 20 women.
Within those numbers, there are limits on how many athletes a country can qualify:
Men’s Two-Man, Four-Man, Men’s Skeleton: 3 countries = 3 entries, 6 countries = 2 entries, 5 countries = 1 entry
Women’s Two-Man, Women’s Skeleton: 2 countries = 3 entries, 4 countries = 2 entries, 2 countries = 1 entry
For each event, it will be the countries with the best-ranked number three pilots/skeleton athletes who will qualify the maximum spots.
What should we watch for?
Already in the history books as the first female bobsleigh pilot to win two Olympic gold medals, Kaillie Humphries can become the first pilot of either gender to win the same event three times. She could also become the first Canadian athlete to win three straight Olympic gold medals in the same event in a non-team sport. She recently added 2006 Olympic gold medallist Sandra Kiriasis as a coach, noting how much she valued the opinion of another female pilot, especially one as accomplished as the German who was a nine-time overall World Cup champion.
But who will be in the sled with Humphries in PyeongChang? Last season she competed with both Cynthia Appiah and Melissa Lotholz, with the latter pushing her to a second straight silver medal at the world championships as well as the overall World Cup title in 2015-16. Both women will be with her during this World Cup season. The woman who won gold with Humphries at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, Heather Moyse, has decided to give bobsleigh another go but is still in training to start the season. Meanwhile hurdler Phylicia George is trying to become the next Canadian athlete to go from being a Summer Olympian to a Winter Olympian.
If not in a sled with Humphries, then one of those women could end up with Alysia Rissling. Solidly Canada’s number two pilot last season, she surprised the world and announced herself as a podium contender when she won bronze with Appiah on the Olympic Sliding Centre track during the PyeongChang 2018 test event.
Canada has three capable pilots on the men’s side, so the question to be answered is will they all make it to PyeongChang? Justin Kripps is coming off a two-man silver medal at the 2017 World Championships with Jesse Lumsden. Chris Spring stood on the World Cup podium last season in both the two-man and four-man events. Nick Poloniato had the best result of any Canadian men’s sled at the PyeongChang 2018 test event when he finished fourth in the two-man with Lascelles Brown.
There is also a great trio to watch in women’s skeleton. Mirela Rahneva, Elisabeth Vathje, and Jane Channell are all new to the World Cup circuit since Sochi 2014 but have completely revitalized the national team program. Trading off on making trips to international podiums, they are pushing each other domestically and returning Canada to the position of dominance it held in the early 2000s before the rest of the world caught up.