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IBSF World Cup action returns to Whistler at a pivotal moment for sliding sports

Canadian bobsleigh, skeleton and luge athletes hope to rebuild momentum after dramatic changes at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

Mirela Rahneva didn’t perform her best at the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Cup opener on Nov. 24, but she knows the real victory is having world-class races back in Whistler. 

A two-time Olympic skeleton athlete, Rahneva can hold her own against the best, as evidenced by her fifth-place result at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. Last week she finished seventh, clocking the ninth-fastest opening run time and the fifth-best second run for a combined time of 1:47.99. Fellow Canadian Jane Channell placed eighth, as Germany’s Hannah Neise prevailed with a time of 1:47:40 in the first women’s skeleton event of the World Cup season.

“It would have been nice to start the season on home ice with a medal,” said Rahneva. “Sometimes you train really well, and you get in your head about it on race day.”

Still, the 34-year-old is taking things in stride. After all, she and her teammates have come a long way just to race in Whistler again. 

On Nov. 5, former Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) president Sarah Storey announced she would not run for a third term at the BCS annual general meeting. Storey is a controversial figure in BCS circles, with many current and former athletes accusing her and high-performance director Chris Le Bihan of fostering a toxic culture within the organization—both of whom reportedly walked out of the heated annual meeting in Calgary before members had a chance to vote. Storey would likely have been voted out by the group of 90 Canadian sliders at the meeting if she had not vacated her position. 

Taking control

Wholesale changes took place. Sport physiologist Tara McNeil was elected the new president by acclamation, while Matt Stapley joined the board as a director at large. Rahneva and bobsled pilot Cynthia Appiah became the athlete representatives for their respective sports. 

“Tara McNeil…is very athlete-centric. She is very caring of how the athletes are doing,” Rahneva said. “In order to perform at a high level, you have to have the foundational blocks of health and well-being laid out first. So, she’s very understanding of that.

“Then we have Matt Stapley, who has a very great business background and business acumen. We’re hoping that we get BCS rebranded, and we attract more sponsorship dollars. It’s incredible how much we rely on the government for our sponsorship dollars. And we need to expand on that.” 

Even with new leadership in place, many sliders appreciate the importance of taking matters into their own hands, including veteran bobsledder Chris Spring. A four-time Olympian who has piloted for both Canada and his native Australia, the 38-year-old has previously put some of his concerns with BCS on record. 

“I think we realized that if we want to make change in the organization, we can’t just rely on the federation to steer us in the direction that we want to go,” he said. “We have to take control of the ship ourselves.” 

Recently retired pilot Justin Kripps, who won two-man gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics and four-man bronze in Beijing earlier this year, appreciates that sentiment. He thinks that consistent, genuine cooperation between BCS and its athletes will be vital going forward.

“You can’t put all the accountability on the program. You can’t put all the accountability on the athlete,” Kripps said. “There has to be a balancing and collaboration there. And that’s how you end up with massive successes, Olympic medals and that kind of thing.” 

Rahneva is more than willing to help close the gap between competitors and decision-makers. She and Appiah have a rare opportunity to advocate for their compatriots while still racing actively—and thus being in tune with issues facing Canadian skeleton athletes and bobsledders today. 

“A hundred per cent, we’re representing the athlete’s voice,” said Rahneva. “I don’t think we’ve ever had two athlete reps that are currently competing, that are very much there in the thick of it. We’re going to be communicating to the board exactly what’s going on and what athletes need.” 

'We do it because we love it'

Others have stepped up in ways big and small. Kripps considered leaving bobsleigh entirely after his retirement, but instead stayed with BCS as a technical coach. Spring works at the Whistler Sliding Centre as a youth coach and forerunner, testing the track before races. Bobsled brakeman Cyrus Gray raised awareness for November’s competitive events by making posters himself.

Kripps hopes that through coaching, he can help young bobsledders enjoy the sport as much as he did in his 16-year career. “I realized that it was a bit sad for me to see all these athletes having a negative experience,” he said. “That wasn’t the experience that I’d had. I’m trying to stick around and do whatever I can to [make it more likely] that people will have the kind of experience I did.” 

Meanwhile, Spring wants people to know that he and his fellow bobsledders are not—and have never—been in it for the money. 

“We lose money doing this sport,” he acknowledged. “It takes its toll on our bodies and social lives. People put their education and families on hold. We do it because we love it, and we want to showcase that to people as well.” 

The Whistler Sliding Centre is an ideal showcase for Canadians, especially these days with Calgary’s WinSport sliding facility being demolished. Whistler’s is famously the fastest track in the world, with four-man bobsleds topping out at 157 kilometres/hour, and it carries a rich Olympic legacy dating back to Vancouver 2010. 

“Anytime we get international competition [in Whistler], it’s a great chance to highlight Canadian sliding sports,” said Appiah, who won silver on Nov. 25 in women’s monobob. “Hopefully we can get more international races here: more World Cups, more World Championship races. 

“Bobsleigh is such a beautiful sport and our sister sports of skeleton and luge only seek to benefit when we have more races here.” 

Ultimately, Rahneva is hopeful that groundwork has been laid for Canadian sliding to build momentum going into the 2026 Winter Olympics. As an athlete, she wants to win but is primarily focused on enjoying every moment of the season. As an advocate, she looks to keep a healthy perspective. 

“[Appiah and I] will do our best to bring forward all the concerns that athletes have, but also the positive change that athletes see,” Rahneva said. “Obviously there’s things to work on, but it’s also important to recognize the positive stuff that’s been going on.” 

For race results throughout the season, visit