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Channell embraces early opening

Whistler Sliding Centre sent first sleds on Sept. 25

Dan Falloon Sep 28, 2017 1:00 AM

Any chance to get training early is welcomed, but being an Olympic season, local skeleton racer Jane Channell is especially excited.

The 29-year-old will look to qualify for her first Games this fall through the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton selection process.

Channell hopes the extra practice will give her and her teammates a chance to hit the ground running early in the season.

"With the extra time on the track, we're able to get that run volume in and get our strength back early," she said.

With the third IBSF World Cup race of the season coming to the Whistler Sliding Centre on Nov. 24 and 25, as well as the 2019 World Championships, Channell said getting as many runs as possible on the track is of the utmost importance. As well, with the 2018 Winter Olympic Games around the corner in PyeongChang, South Korea in February, Channell is looking for the chance to get a leg up on earning one of three Canadian spots, as well as on the international competition should she qualify.

The extra time on the ice, Channell explained, is essentially a little extra trial-and-error period as athletes figure out which equipment combinations work best. Once they figure those out, the athletes will get to cement their best practices through repetition.

"We'll be able to test equipment and we'll be able to carry that into the season. It'll give us an advantage, hopefully, in securing those three spots on the girls' and on the guys' side in the Olympic Games for Canada," Channell said. "Everyone's testing runners, like usual, and there are a couple new sleds that people have that they're testing.

"We're testing lines on the track. Anything you can possibly think of, we're playing with and seeing how it's reacting on the ice."

Channell is enthusiastic for the season after a healthy summer of recovery and training in which she pushed new personal best start times.

"It's definitely a confidence booster going into the season," she said.

WSC managing director Tracy Seitz said the early opening came after a request from Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton to allow the athletes more time to train.

"We had to go through some budget processes and figure it all out but that's what we're here for, to support our national teams," he said.

Seitz also stressed visitors can come up to the Sliding Centre and watch the athletes train.

Robb Zirnhelt, the centre's manager of track operations, was impressed with how his crew came together to get the ice installed early, even in the face of warmer-than-usual temperatures for their process.

"The weather is a bit of a challenge, but I guess it always is for us," he said. "One of the bigger challenges is going to be keeping it together for the next few weeks just because we are that much earlier. During icemaking, we tend to get a mix of sun and rain, but we can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now that tunnel's just a little bit longer."

The Sept. 25 opening isn't the earliest ever, he said, noting the 2009 premiere in advance of the Olympics came a day earlier, but sleds don't typically start descending until after Thanksgiving.

Zirnhelt noted like many employers, Whistler Sport Legacies is having trouble attracting a full slate of staff. His crew is made up of 18 employees, six short of a full roster.

Channell is also appreciative of the crew's efforts for getting the track in working order.

"It's so hot out, but they're able to keep ice on the track," she said.