At just 23, Kim McRae has seen the ups and downs of the luge world.
The Victoria product, who's now based in Calgary, enjoyed a breakout season in 2013-14 when she stunned much of the world by notching a fifth-place finish at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, placing just behind Canuck veteran Alex Gough. She also scored a bronze medal at the World Cup event in Altenberg, Germany.
McRae was unable to repeat the performance again last season, though, posting a best performance of sixth on two occasions.
However, McRae launched into the 2015-16 campaign with a vengeance, capturing the Canadian Luge Championships at Whistler Sliding Centre on Oct. 31. McRae tallied a two-run time of one minute, 18.77 seconds (1:18.77) to win the event for the first time. Calgarians Arianne Jones and Brooke Apshkrum, the latter of whom is just 16, rounded out the podium. Mount Currie's Jenna Spencer placed sixth in the 10-racer field.
"Overall I think it was just a combination of sliding all week and we tried to work on the little things and tried to improve the starts throughout the week," McRae said. "We slowly got there and then race day, I peaked, so it worked out well."
McRae, who considers the local course to be her favourite, was No. 1 not only in the end, but at every recorded split in the race, maintaining consistency throughout the day. That wasn't a given, McRae noted afterward, explaining it took her a few runs to regain her coordination starting up before getting it down.
"I was having issues with the basics of the start but we worked through that a bit and were able to hone in on it for the race day," she said. "I was practicing a lot over the summer but when you get sliding, there are all these other variables that come into effect with different types of ramps. From the top, my start was OK, but moving down the track, I was focusing more on the sliding aspect and my starts got a little bit worse because I was spending less time on it. We just had to bring it back a bit."
Some of McRae's offseason activity was well documented, as she took up taekwondo in March and has now earned her orange belt. She feels the cross training is already starting to make an impact on her on-track performance.
"A couple warm-ups throughout the week, I actually did taekwondo instead... I did our warm-up, but I implemented a few taekwondo techniques and I had fun with it a little bit. It was nice changing up a little bit," she said. "(On track), a little bit of coordination and a little bit of mental focus helped quite a bit. I just have to rein it back a little bit. I tend to over-focus.
"I'm still focused on muscle movement and body awareness, but I'm not focusing solely on the sport. I have that little bit of cross training I'm able to do in between."
On the men's side, John Fennell captured the title with a combined time of 1:41.66 seconds, slowing up slightly toward the end of his second run and posting the second-best time to overall runner-up Mitchel Malyk in that endeavour. Still, the Calgary-based Fennell had a large enough lead that he edged Malyk by 0.04 seconds for his first Canadian title. Local slider Reid Watts hit the podium, taking third in the field of seven, sitting 0.556 seconds behind the winning pace. Sea to Sky locals Nicky Klimchuk-Brown, Adam Shippit and Matt Riddle placed fourth through sixth, respectively.
Even with the win, Fennell knows there's still plenty of work to do to become the athlete he'd like to be.
"I'm happy with the result today, but there's obviously some things I can improve on. There's lots of things to do before the World Cup season starts and ultimately, the goal for the season is to compete at World Championships," he said. "There are some definite positives I can take from (the win) but there's also a lot of things I can reflect on and improve. I'm in a good spot heading into the World Cup season, hopefully."
Fennell said the championships continued with his typical pattern of having a strong first run followed by a less-than-stellar second attempt.
"I've struggled a lot with consistency in my runs, laying down two consistent runs one after the other and not getting so inside my head and overthinking it and complicating things," he said. "I want to be able to just do what I'm capable of, have quick starts and lay down two consistent runs."
As for the doubles, the veterans Tristan Walker and Justin Snith cruised to victory by 1.44 seconds over the local duos of Riddle/Watts and Klimchuk-Brown/Shippit. It was the first time since 2008 that three or more teams participated.