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Canada looking to add to medal haul at bobsled, skeleton world championships


WHISTLER, B.C. — Mirela Rahneva's heart thumped in her chest as she stood at the top of the sliding track in Whistler, B.C., last weekend.

The Canadian skeleton athlete doesn't usually get anxious before a run, but she isn't usually working as part of a team at the bobsled and skeleton world championships either.

"I'm normally pretty chill at the top. So I think this is the most nervous I've been for any race because I've got my team counting on me," Rahneva said after her heat.

"I only get one run. Normally if I have a bad run, I can make up for it. But I only have one try here. So the pressure was on."

Rahneva's team slid to silver behind Germany on Sunday, capping a weekend that also saw Canada take bronze in women's bobsled and silver in two-man bobsled.

When the world championships continue in Whistler on Thursday, Rahneva will look to add an individual medal to her haul.

The 30-year-old finished 12th in women's skeleton at the Pyeongchang Olympics last year and got off to a slow start on the world cup circuit this season.

In January, her fortunes changed in St. Moritz, Switzerland at one of her favourite tracks.

"I really love that track, ever since I went there for the first time for a development circuit race," she said.

Rahneva captured gold with a two-run combined time of two minutes 17.77 seconds. She was 0.23 seconds ahead of Russia's Elena Nikitina.

"It was nice to have a good result there and pick up some momentum," she said.

More top results followed: a fourth-place finish in Lake Placid, N.Y., then gold and silver in Calgary at the last stop of the season.

Now she's looking for four more solid runs and a high finish at the world championships in Whistler. So far, training has gone well, despite some chilly weather that's made for tricky conditions on the ice, Rahneva said.

"It's been pretty solid. I feel like I'm clicking with the track right now," she said.

Rahneva, who was raised in Ottawa after her family immigrated from Bulgaria, is one of 17 Canadians competing in the second stage of this year's bobsled and skeleton world championships. The men's and women's skeleton events, and the four-man bobsled will all take place this weekend.

Calgary's Elisabeth Maier and Madison Charney of Brooks, Alta., will join Rahneva in the women's skeleton competition. On the men's side, Dave Greszczyszyn of Brampton, Ont., and Ottawa native Mark Lynch will slide for Canada.

After capturing silver in two-man bobsled last Saturday, Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C., and Cam Stones of Whitby, Ont., are looking to conquer the four-man race with teammates Ryan Sommer of White Rock, B.C., and Saskatoon's Ben Coakwell.

Calgary's Chris Spring will also be returning to the track after finishing fourth in the last week's two-man race with Edmonton's Neville Wright. The pair will be joined by Edmonton's Dexter Janke and Fabio Silva of Calgary.

Wright, 38, has said the four-man race will mark the end of his bobsled career.

A third Canadian sled will be piloted by Nick Poloniato of Hamilton, who suffered a disappointing crash in the two-man event. Working with Poloniato will be Ottawa's Pat Norton, William Auclair of Quebec City and Keefer Joyce of Kelowna, B.C.

With the events taking place in Whistler, there are heightened expectations for Canadian athletes, Rahneva said, adding that she hasn't felt too much pressure yet and is working to stay "calm and mellow."

"At the end, it's a world championship and it's amazing and I'm here," she said. "It's the experience that counts."

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press