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Whistlerite Tirza Lara 14th at Junior World Championships

Fellow Canadian Mirela Rahneva posts career-best fourth place finish at skeleton World Cup

Tirza Lara of Whistler finished in 14th place as the only Canadian woman in this year's International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) Junior World Championships. The 21-year-old posted a combined time of 1:59.46 on Jan. 13 in Winterberg, Germany. 

A top-15 result at a Junior World Championship is another milestone in Lara's burgeoning career. She already has a third-place finish and five other top-10s on the North American Cup circuit this season as part of Canada's NextGen skeleton roster. The Calgary, Alta. native slid to eighth and tenth on home soil during the North American Cup's last visit to Whistler. 

"I hope my pursuit of adrenaline will bring me to the biggest competitive stage, the Olympic Games," Lara wrote on her crowdfunding page. "I think my 10-year-old self would be proud." 

Don't be fooled by the term "Junior Worlds": Friday's competition included a few top-tier athletes. Germany’s Hannah Neise, the defending Olympic gold medallist in skeleton, was crowned Junior Women’s World Champion with a time of 1:55.68. Meanwhile, British racers Tabitha Stoecker (1:56.13) and Freya Tarbit (1:56.24) grabbed silver and bronze.

Calgarian Blake Enzie was the top Canuck on the men's side of the junior event. The 2022 Olympian put down two consistent runs for seventh spot and a combined time of 1:54.67. Ryan Kuehn, also of Calgary, placed 11th at 1:56.04.

Germany’s Cedric Renner won the men’s race with a time of 1:53.82. Rasmus Johansen of Denmark (1:53.88) and German Lukas David Nydegger (1:54.07) rounded out the podium.

Personal best 

The senior Canadians were also in action this week in Altenberg, Germany at the IBSF World Cup, roughly two hours up the road from their junior compatriots. Although Mirela Rahneva of Ottawa, Ont. missed the podium, her fourth-place result today was significant nonetheless. 

The 34-year-old posted a career-best finish on the 17-corner German track that is recognized as one of the most difficult on the sliding-sport circuit, clocking a two-run time of 1:57.61. In addition to her exploits on track, Rahneva is known for being an athlete representative with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) during a tumultuous time for the organization.

“I’ve had a fairly difficult time in Altenberg in past seasons. I’ll even go as far as admitting to being very scared of this track from previous crashes and bad races I’ve had here,” said the two-time Olympian, who only has one other top-10 finish in Altenberg (10th at the 2020 World Championships). 

 “I’m very happy to finish fourth when I think back to previous results here. I’m really proud of my first run being within the medals.”

Rahneva finally tamed the 1,413-metre beast, breaking through with the third-fastest time in her opening run. Hungry for her second-straight World Cup podium and third of the year, she put down the fourth-fastest start time in the final heat but dropped one spot out of podium position in the end. 

The Ottawa resident had a new strategy: bring two different sleds with her on the World Cup this season to navigate different tracks. It paid off during her breakthrough performance.

“Last year, I recognized that I had different needs on different tracks. I decided to pull the plug and purchase a new sled mid-season last year just so I could get through the second Altenberg race. I ended up making a lot of progress that race coming 11th,” said Rahneva. "This year my goal was to pick up where I left off. I’m sliding on two sleds to accommodate the different styles of sliding required. Both are incredible to drive and have different strengths and downfalls.”

Rahneva was on a stiffer sled Friday to better handle the high-pressure Altenberg corners versus her other sled that loves to climb and will take height early in corners rather than later.

Medal roundup

Germans successfully defended home ice, taking the top two spots on the podium. Tina Hermann was first at 1:56.23, while Susanne Kreher slid to the silver medal at 1:57.27. Kimberly Bos of the Netherlands, edged out her Canadian friend for third place with a time of 1:57.45.

North Vancouver's Jane Channell rebounded after a difficult first run to climb three spots up the standings into 11th spot at 1:58.52. Channell, a two-time Olympian, posted the sixth-fastest final run time.

Two Canadians also hit the start line for the men’s race. Evan Neufeldt of Saskatoon, Sask. slid to 18th spot at 1:56.10. Starting his first World Cup of the season, Calgary’s Mark Lynch finished one place behind in 19th with a time of 1:56.35.

Matt Weston of Great Britain won the men’s race with a time of 1:52.44. Two Germans grabbed the final spots on the podium: Christopher Grotheer was second at 1:52.58, while Axel Jungk clocked-in at 1:52.94 for third place.