Mirela Rahneva has broken through at the World Championships.
On Jan. 27, the 34-year-old skeleton racer captured her first International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Championships medal, a bronze, in the birthplace of sliding sports: St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Rahneva has always possessed world-class athletic talent, and she's put herself within striking distance of victory before. The Ottawa, Ont. product placed fifth at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, seventh at this season's IBSF World Cup opener in Whistler, and a tantalizing close fourth on Jan. 13 in Altenberg, Germany. Today, she would not be denied.
The two-time Olympian let loose a scream in the leader’s box, realizing her goal had been achieved.
"The two World Championship days were such a roller coaster. Right now, all I feel is sweet, sweet relief,” said an emotional Rahneva in a press release. “It feels really good because I’ve been left off the podium in important races before where it could have happened, but things didn’t line up. I did everything possible to get this done. I had the right preparation. I brought my coach in. Everything I possibly could have needed was here.”
'The fear was greater to lose'
Rahneva fought her way to the final spot on the podium by chalking up a combined time of 4:34.41 in an epic battle on the only non-refrigerated track in the world, 1700 metres of stunning natural ice.
“It doesn’t feel real yet because it all happened so fast,” she added. “I love St. Moritz. I’ve been living with this sole purpose of being here and doing well at these World Championships and today, I thought I didn’t have a chance, and then I did, it is just insane.”
Rahneva was in second place at the midway point of the four-run race. Her Canadian teammate, Jane Channell of North Vancouver, was third at that time. However, the deck shuffled after heat No. 3, where a difficult third attempt dropped Rahneva to fifth spot. Channell remained in the bronze-medal position.
“I was a second off, and I think I just got really nervous [in the third run],” said Rahneva. “I let it get to my head. I’ve been working a lot with my sports psych to manage the nerves. I acknowledged this race was important to me and I think the fear was greater to lose.
“I love this track so much. I wanted it so bad today that I think I just squeezed things so hard, and I should have been more gentle.”
Not letting the opportunity get away from her, the Ottawa native battled back in the final heat where she threw down the third fastest run to solidify her bronze.
“That second and fourth run, I was flying. But that was really hard because I was watching Jane [Channell] and I saw that her run wasn’t going as planned," Rahneva recalled. "I knew there would be disappointment. You never want to see people fall apart, especially when your teammate just fell out of the medals, but then there was this realization that I’m in the medals. There is so much for both of Jane and I to be proud of today.”
Channell, who clocked the second-fastest start time in all four heats, was hunting down her first podium on the famed chute but wasn’t able to recover from a skid at the top of the track in the last heat, dropping to sixth with a time of 4:34.76.
“I wanted more. I knew I had it in me. I let a skid get to me and couldn’t relax on my sled for the rest of the run. I made every mistake possible in my fourth run,” said Channell, a two-time Olympian who was delighted to have her mom and dad at the track. “I’m disappointed, but it’s also my best ever result here. A sixth-place finish, tying my best result of this tough season, is something I’m proud of.
When the dust finally settled in the finish area, it was Germany’s Susanne Kreher celebrating in the women’s circle. The 24-year-old contender was formidable in all four heats, clocking-in at 4:33.57.
Kreher topped Kimberley Bos of the Netherlands by just one one-hundredth of a second for the World Championship crown. Bos stormed back on Day 2, throwing down the top time in each of the last two heats, to claim silver with a time of 4:33.58.
Rahneva has earned 13 World Cup podium results throughout her career. Two of her victories, along with a third-place finish, have come on the oldest track in the world that has played host to the 1928 and 1948 Olympic Winter Games.
“It just feels so good to slide here. I love it at St. Moritz. I think it is just the long straightaways and beautiful ice. It is a privilege to slide here,” said Rahneva. “You are sliding in the middle of the forest. It is very peaceful and quiet. You just really get in the moment because it is so quiet. You can just be a free person and slide, and really fly here.”
The Ontarian added her name to a list of legendary Canadian skeleton athletes who have won World Championship medals. The distinguished group includes Ryan Davenport, Jon Montgomery and Duff Gibson (who are Olympic gold medallists), Mellisa Hollingsworth (an Olympic bronze medallists) Jeff Pain, Lindsay Alcock, Michelle Kelly, Elizabeth Vathje, and Sarah Reid.
“Canada has a great history of incredible sliders and those are all athletes that I look up too,” said Rahneva. “I still don’t think I live up to their history of incredible results, but maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet. I admire everything about each and every one of those sliders. It’s nice to know that all of the effort over the years has accumulated to being on this list of Canadian World Championship medallists.”
Rahneva occupies second place in the overall World Cup standings thanks to consistent results this season, including a victory in Park City, Utah and a silver medal in Winterberg, Germany.
Neither of the two Canadians qualified for the final run in the men’s race. Blake Enzie of Calgary, Alta. placed 23rd, while Evan Neufeldt of Saskatoon, Sask. slid to 27th.
Matt Weston of Great Britain was crowned men's World Champion with a time of 4:28.71. Silver went to Italian Amedeo Bagnis (4:30.50) and Seunggi Jung of South Korea took bronze (4:31.17).