Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Canadian men sweep skeleton podium at North American Cup day 4

Tirza Lara, Grace Dafoe win gold and silver among women
Canadian skeleton racers that medalled at the 2023 Whistler North American Cup, left to right: Troy Wison, Ryan Kuehn, Mark Lynch, Grace Dafoe (back left), Tirza Lara (back right).

It was a sea of red and white atop the North American Cup (NAC) men's skeleton podium on Dec. 2, as Mark Lynch, Troy Wilson and Ryan Kuehn cleaned house with a one-two-three finish.

It was Lynch who found championship speed: one minute, 48.38 seconds to be precise, with Wilson not far behind (1:49.05). Kuehn had a chance to go for the win, but a difficult second run forced him to settle for bronze (1:49.77).

Among women, none were faster than Tirza Lara, who clinched her second victory in as many days (1:51.62). Fellow Canadian Grace Dafoe was just three one-hundredths of a second behind in earning her first NAC silver (1:51.65), with Seokju Yang of Korea winding up third (1:52.61).

"A lot of people know about the changes that have been going on with our skeleton program the last few years," Lynch said. "This shows that change is very hard, it takes a long time, but it does come. We still have a long ways to go, a lot of work to do, but to share the podium with [my teammates] is awesome."

'A long time coming'

The 2023 Whistler NAC has been a banner event for Wilson personally, as he clinched his first-ever medal on the circuit (a bronze) on Dec. 1. 

"It's been a long time coming," said the former University of New Brunswick decathlete. "Training was really, really good. I was making sure my head space was staying as on point as it could. Having the close races both [Friday and Saturday] is a testament to both of my teammates. I'm really proud of my performance, and I'm even more proud of my teammates over the course of this weekend." 

Kuehn wanted more out of himself, but is nonetheless leaving Whistler with two medals and a personal-best push time (4.56 seconds).

"My first run was really good," he said. "I knew from the moment I crossed the finish line that it was a good one. I  just I keep looking for little things [to improve on.]" 

The Canadian men are off to a blazing start to their campaign. Blake Enzie won two gold medals at the NAC season opener in Lake Placid, N.Y. with Kuehn adding a silver of his own. They all share one goal: to become world champions someday.

"We're just lucky to be on the sleds," Wilson added. "These [results] are a testament to our team's hard work behind the scenes. There's going to be bigger and brighter things coming, and this is just a glint. Expect to see better performances from not just us three, but everyone on the sleds."

Here to stay

Though Lara has moved back to her family home of Sun Peaks, she is intimately familiar with the iconic Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC) and strives to perform her best each time on its high-velocity ice. 

"I'm very excited, very happy," she said. "I've spent a lot of time training on this track, so it's really satisfying to be able to see the fruits of that effort. There's always a fear aspect, and the ice really fast, but we're so used to getting over that fear and working with those speeds so it's almost like second nature for a lot of us Canadian athletes."

While Lara kicked off her international career not so long ago, Dafoe has been around for some time. She discovered skeleton as a young adult in the twilight of her figure skating years and won her first NAC medal (a gold) in 2015 on Calgary's now-shuttered track. The Albertan returned to the podium on Saturday at what happened to be her 50th NAC event. 

"This was probably one of the best runs I've put down on the Whistler track, which is exciting," said Dafoe. "It's no secret I've been around for a little bit on the international scene. I haven't been to Europe since 2019, and I'm looking forward to cracking those top sixes. The goal is to do those and show that Canada is not only here in North America, but we are here to stay at the Europa Cup level."