Elisabeth Vathje couldn't quite put her emotions into words after winning the IBSF BMW World Cup women's skeleton race at Whistler Sliding Centre on Dec. 2.
The Calgarian had struggled at the track before, but that was all behind her as she slid to her second career win, besting German Jacqueline Loelling by 0.84 seconds. Tina Hermann, also of Germany, rounded out the podium in third while Great Britain's Lizzie Yarnold, the 2014 Olympic champion, competing in her first race in 21 months, was just a hundredth of a second off the podium.
"I'm speechless. I've struggled on this track and this race was freeing," Vathje said. "I love this track now. It's so fun and I'm blessed to represent Canada.
"I flowed with the track. The ice speaks and it was speaking to me today."
Vathje had a strong 2014-15 season with three podium appearances, including a win at her home track in Calgary, but finished no higher than sixth last season. The 22-year-old hopes the win sets her up for a special campaign in 2016-17.
"Last year, I tried a science experiment and put some weight on (20 pounds) and it didn't work," she said, noting she's started meeting with a sports psychologist, has a new coach, and feels different heading into the season. "Last year, I was like 'Oh, I'll get back on the podium,' like it'll just happen, but no, you're setting goals and they're achievable every run."
Fellow Canadian Mirela Rahneva placed fifth, setting a new start record on her second run with a 4.79-second dash.
The Ottawa product, who briefly held the record before it was broken by Jane Channell, was thrilled with the result in her World Cup debut.
"It's mind-blowing. I knew I felt good off the block and I kept my shins tight," she said. "I knew I felt powerful and I just got on and hoped for the best.
"I like to get a good breath in before I go down and sometimes I struggle to catch that breath, that perfect breath before going down. Today, it all came together. I got that breath the first time the first run and right before the second run I, at the last minute, caught it and was like 'That's it, I know I'm going to have a good run with that breath.'"
Rahneva said she entered the day just hoping to be one of the top 20 sliders at the midway point, thereby earning a second run, but surpassed her expectations.
"I didn't expect to race two solid runs down and come Top 6. It's kind of crazy!" she exclaimed.
It was a heartbreaking day for Channell, the third Canadian in the race, as she placed 16th. Channell, who hails from North Vancouver, said she felt her runs were solid, but the times just weren't there in the end.
Channell, who missed some practice sessions with an illness earlier in the week, said some of the conditions had changed from Thursday to Friday as snow fell during the first run of competition.
"My runs felt good. They felt like they were the cleanest runs I had all week but the equipment wasn't there, so it's disappointing," she said. "It's always a gamble on race day for equipment with which runners you use and which you don't use but unfortunately this time, I lost the gamble."
South Korean captures men's win
With the next Winter Olympic Games on tap in his home country, Sungbin Yun is looking to make South Koreans proud.
The 22-year-old hit his seventh consecutive IBSF World Cup podium by winning the men's skeleton event on Dec. 3.
Yun, who was third at the 2015-16 World Cup stop in Whistler, bested Russia's Alexander Tretiakov by 0.12 seconds and American Matthew Antoine by 0.36 seconds.
While he struggled in parts his second time down, the 0.15-second cushion he built after the first run proved to be more than enough.
"I'm so happy. Training is very real, but race day is very tight," said Yun, who also was first in training.
Yun said the difference between his last competition in Whistler and this weekend was significant as he got a better sense of the track and performed better.
Antoine was eighth after the first run, but blazed through his second run with the best second attempt of all to make the leap to third.
He had a few near misses, including a fourth in Whistler last January, so he hopes the bronze is a gateway to a strong 2016-17.
"I had a bit of a tough year last year, didn't medal at all, so to come back in the first race right off the start and walk away with a medal, it's a good confidence-builder going into the rest of the season," he said.
Antoine knew after his first run that there were places he could cut time, and was pleased with how he leapt up into the medals.
"With the technicality and difficulty of this track, you will have a lot of athletes who make mistakes, so whoever can be the most consistent will stand to do the best," he said. "The first run, I was a little disappointed. I made some big mistakes in Curves 6 and 7 and I knew that if I cleaned those up, I would have a chance to move up."
Barrett Martineau was the top Canadian, placing 10th, while Dave Greszczyszyn was just a spot back in 11th. Kevin Boyer, making his World Cup debut, took 17th.