The 2018-19 Skeleton World Cup season gets underway this weekend in Sigulda, Latvia.
Helen Upperton, CBC’s bobsleigh, luge and skeleton analyst, believes that competing on the Sigulda track bodes well for the Canadians.
“For many years, the Canadians had a Latvian coach, Ivo Pakalns,” said Upperton. “They’ve done a lot of training there, so they’re quite familiar with the track.”
Experience with the track may give the Canadians a distinct advantage, as Sigulda hasn’t hosted a skeleton World Cup event since December 2005.
There’s a fine line between winning and losing:
Upperton, a silver medallist in bobsleigh at the 2010 Winter Olympics, feels that the Canucks have extra incentive this season.
“The Canadians are super motivated this year because the world championships are in Canada for the first time since 2005,” said Upperton.
“They’re all going to be working toward peaking in March when the world championships are in Whistler.”
This year’s skeleton World Cup circuit will feature eight races between December 2018 and February 2019, and will be followed by the 2019 skeleton world championships in Whistler, B.C.
Canadian women look to build on last year’s success
Between Elizabeth Vathje, Mirela Rahneva, and Jane Channell, the Canadian women field an extremely competitive team.
Vathje finished last year ranked third in the overall World Cup skeleton rankings to capture her first career Crystal Globe. The 24-year-old slid to three silver medals at World Cup races in Lake Placid, Winterberg, and Igls, and captured a bronze in St. Moritz.
Rahneva placed third in Igls, Austria, and finished the year eighth in the World Cup rankings.
“Jane is a very strong starter,” said Upperton. “She’s a very fast pusher, which gives her an advantage on tracks where the start is more important.”
Getting a head start in skeleton:
Upperton thinks the Canadian women can take advantage of a post-Olympics hangover.
“People tend to take the summers off [after the Olympics] — mentally and physically,” said Upperton.
“You can capitalize on the opportunity after the Olympics to really get a lot of hardware. I think our girls can be in that type of situation.”
German athletes Jacqueline Lolling and Tina Hermann finished first and second, respectively, in the skeleton World Cup rankings last season.
Lolling captured four golds on the World Cup circuit, and won silver at the Pyeongchang Games. Hermann won four silvers and a bronze on the circuit.
Upperton sees no reason why the pair won’t continue to thrive this season.
“Germany is always really strong in sliding,” she said. “I would never expect to not see Germans contend for a medal in any sliding sport.”
Skeleton equipment is on the cutting edge:
Moving over to the men’s side, Latvian brothers Martins and Tomass Dukurs will enjoy the support of the home crowd this weekend.
Martins is the five-time world champion in men’s skeleton. Tomass finished last year third in the World Cup rankings. Their father, Dainis Dukurs, is the track manager at the Sigulda bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track.
“If you had to make a bet, you’d bet on them,” said Upperton. “They know the track better than anybody. It’s home. Their father manages the venue. They obviously have a big advantage.”
Yun Sung-Bin is another heavy favourite on the men’s circuit this year. The 24-year-old South Korean captured gold at the Pyeongchang Games and won five of eight World Cup races last season.
Canadian male hopes
Dave Greszczyszyn didn’t try skeleton for the first time until he was 27 years old. Now 39, the Toronto native finished 11th in the overall World Cup skeleton rankings last year. His season highlight was finishing third in the World Cup race in Winterberg, Germany.
Edmonton native Kevin Boyer finished last season ranked 13th overall.
“Dave has the goal of trying to get on the podium more, and Boyer is trying to break into the top 10,” said Upperton.
“As always, men’s skeleton has a pretty deep field. They have their work cut out for them.”
CBC Sports will stream live coverage of men’s skeleton from Sigulda on Saturday starting at 2:34 a.m. ET.
Live coverage will continue on Sunday with women’s skeleton streaming at 2:34 a.m. ET.