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Ottawa at the Olympics Day 11: Oh so close to podium for skeleton slider

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Day 11 Recap: Mimi Rahneva slides to strong 5th place performance in women’s skeleton

By Dan Plouffe, Ethan Diamandas & Martin Cleary (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.)

Ottawa skeleton athlete Mimi Rahneva exceeded her world ranking and gave Canadian sliding fans a thrilling ride as she flew down the icy track in Beijing at 127 km/h to record a 5th-place finish at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Sitting 9th after the first day of competition, Rahneva charged back into the medal conversation with a blazing run today in the third of four heats, but couldn’t quite climb all the way back to the podium.

“It’s been much like all season – just up and down. I’ve been struggling to find that consistency. But I’ve got so much to be thankful for. I’ve got such a strong support team back home – friends and family cheering me on,” Rahneva said in an interview distributed by the Canadian Olympic Committee. “I just wanted to make my friends and family proud.”

Mimi Rahneva finished 5th overall at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo: IBSF

Leading everyone after the first heat thanks to a scorching time of 1:02.03, it was Rahneva’s second run that ultimately cost her a medal. Despite her best start time of the bunch, she had some rough meetings with the wall on her way down, and her time of 1:03.14 ranked 18th.

“I think that second run, I was focusing on what I did wrong in the first run,” explained the former Merivale High School and University of Guelph rugby player. “That first run was a track record – it wasn’t perfect by any means, but I wanted to fix it, and I think I might have forced it a little bit, and you can’t force skeleton.”

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Today, Rahneva’s third run closely resembled her first as she nailed the lines and came down with the second-fastest time of the heat (1:01.72) to bring podium hopes back into the equation. Her final run of 1:02.26 wound up being good but not great, and she maintained her 5th-place overall ranking.

“The four heats were inconsistent,” Rahneva noted. “I wish I had a little more in that second run, but I’ve got to proud of where I am sitting, and just what I’ve achieved, the relationships I’ve created with the competitors and friends in the sledding community.”

While a medal certainly tends to get celebrated more than a finish 2 spots away, a Canadian coming 5th in skeleton definitely defies the odds in a sport that’s stacked against them in some ways.

Mimi Rahneva. Photo: IBSF

Canada’s funding of athletes and sled development technology doesn’t come anywhere close to the likes of Germany. The Germans in the women’s skeleton competition had start times that barely cracked the top-20, but they benefitted from superior equipment en route to 1st, 4th and 8th-place finishes.

“It wasn’t easy,” underlined Rahneva, who won World Cup bronze medals on two occasions earlier this season. “We didn’t have a coach for an entire year. Coaching was done virtually with networks and friendships that we have developed.

“I wish we had a little more support so we could be a little more consistent throughout the year.”

We hope to bring you more on Rahneva’s Beijing 2022 experience in our Ottawa at the Olympics coverage tomorrow.

Weidemann & Blondin safely through to women’s team pursuit semi-finals

Also in action on Day 11 were Ottawa speed skaters Isabelle Weidemann and Ivanie Blondin, who enjoyed a good performance in the quarter-finals of the women’s team pursuit competition.

Skating alongside Valérie Maltais, the Gloucester Concordes products propelled Canada to the #2 time out of the 8 teams entered. Their 2:53.97 clocking was just back of Japan’s Olympic-record 2:53.61 and over 6 seconds clear of the top-4 cutoff for the semi-finals.

Winners of all three World Cup events this season, the Canadians would likely have preferred to secure the top seed heading into the semi-finals, where they’ll go head-to-head with the revered Dutch (speed skating in The Netherlands is the equivalent of hockey in Canada).

Weidemann will get the chance to skate for her third medal of the Beijing Games on Tuesday.

O’Dell & McTavish fall to USA in men’s hockey

After kicking off their Olympic competition with a solid 5-1 win over Germany, Team Canada’s Eric O’Dell and Mason McTavish of Ottawa met their match in Team USA, which skated away with a 4-2 decision.

USA’s Kenny Agostino exchanges words with Canada’s Eric O’Dell after the game during their preliminary round game on Feb. 12 in Beijing. Photo: Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images

McTavish, the 19-year-old who’s played for 8 teams in 13 months through COVID, was a threat at many points during the game but didn’t get on the scoresheet. Neither did O’Dell, who led Canada’s forwards with 20:13 in ice time.

Local coach Claude Julien returned behind the Canadian bench after being injured himself before leaving for Beijing and watched his team outshoot USA 37-27.

“The second half of the first period, the first half of the second period, we were definitely the better team,” Julien said in an IIHF story. “And when we started playing, we definitely evened the playing field and even actually had a chance to be the better team at that point. But hockey is hockey.”

Canadian curling rally falls just short

Ottawa-raised lead Dawn McEwen curled 99%, but the Canadian women’s curling team lost on the last rock yesterday to fall to 1-2 through 3 of their 9 round robin matches.

The Canadians gave up an unforced 3 in the 5th end to go down 5-2, and then scored just 1 with hammer in the 6th, but very nearly rallied back. Jones had a difficult final shot that could have won the match if made perfectly, but her hit was off by a little and Sweden came away with a 7-6 victory.

That dealt Ottawa’s Lisa Weagle, who watched the match as alternate, a bit of a case of déjà-vu. The 7-6 final was the same score as the last Olympic matchup between Canada and Sweden when she lost to the eventual PyeongChang 2018 gold medallists as a member of Team Homan.

Ottawa Olympians’ Day 12 Schedule:

View the full competition schedules for all our Ottawa Olympians here.

Day 12 preview: Staying positive and enjoying the moment are key weapons for veteran lead Dawn McEwen

Yes, 1-2 is not the ideal start for the Canadian women’s curling team in Beijing, but Dawn McEwen has made it a habit to rebound from difficult defeats to produce major moments in her curling career that began as a 7-year-old at the RCMP Curling Club.

There probably wasn’t a loss much more crushing than in 2005, when McEwen (Askin was her last name at the time) advanced all the way to the Scott Tournament of Hearts final with her Ottawa Curling Club rink skipped by Jenn Hanna. They lost that championship game to none other than Jennifer Jones, who connected on one of the greatest shots in curling history to win the match.

But it wasn’t long until the Colonel By Secondary School and University of Ottawa communications grad linked up with Team Jones after moving to Winnipeg to be with her now-husband (and fellow curler) Mike McEwen.

Dawn McEwen. File photo

With 5 Canadian titles and 2 Olympic appearances (the last one golden in 2014), McEwen’s gone on to unparalleled success – selected as Canada’s best female lead of all-time by TSN.

“At this point in my career, I just have a lot of gratitude,” the 41-year-old said in a pre-Games interview with the Ottawa Sports Pages’ Ethan Diamandas. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had the success that we’ve had.”

McEwen served as an inspirational force for fellow Ottawa lead Lisa Weagle as “someone I’ve always chased” and who “set the standard for me.” Weagle has mirrored McEwen in many ways, including rebounding from tough defeats.

As a member of Rachel Homan’s Ottawa Curling Club rink, Weagle lost out on the 2014 Olympic berth to McEwen’s crew, but still sent along good luck “Go Canada Go!” cookies to Team Jones and later felt “so proud of them and what they did for Canada.”

Dawn McEwen & Lisa Weagle won their Canadian Olympic trials gold medals. File photo

After a runner-up finish of her own with Homan in 2020, Weagle then joined Jones’ five-player lineup and has of course now secured her second Olympic berth. Weagle, who also owns a uOttawa communications degree, stepped in for McEwen for most of last season when her second daughter, Avalon, was born.

“I’m really excited to take this opportunity as something where the girls can watch mom and see her on the world stage,” McEwen highlighted. “And be inspired by watching me with my work ethic with curling, especially (older daughter) Vienna – she sees it every day.

“If I can be an example for them, then it’s very fulfilling for me.”

McEwen didn’t outright say Beijing would be her last Olympics, but as she reflected on her career, she jokingly admitted she’s “no spring chicken anymore.”

But with age also comes experience and wisdom, and that’s something she’ll take into her team’s next match against Switzerland, who are undefeated at 4-0 to top the standings.

“We’re really good at finding ways to make situations positive for us,” McEwen underlined. “I think that’s gonna be key for us – just to enjoy the opportunity, be thankful for it, and play our hearts out.”

Olympic hosts may want to stock up on goal-light bulbs before Canada vs China men’s hockey game

USA’s Strauss Mann tracks the puck off a shot from Canada’s Eric O’Dell during their preliminary round men’s hockey game at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 12, 2022. Photo: Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images

Also in action on Day 12 will be Eric O’Dell and Mason McTavish as they play their third game in four days to complete the group stage of the men’s hockey tournament.

The final contest of the bunch should be Canada’s least taxing when they take on China. There was concern the host nation might lose its automatic berth before the Games due to a lack of competitiveness, but they made it in and they could be in real trouble, especially because the margin of victory matters to Canada.

If the Canadians wind up tied in points with the 2nd-place teams in the other two groups, then the team with the best goal differential will skip a playoff qualification match and earn a direct bye into the quarter-final round.

Charity with Ottawa roots helps lift some of Canada’s underfunded Olympians

When Mimi Rahneva slid from the top of the mountain to the bottom in Beijing faster than anyone else in the first run of the Olympic women’s skeleton competition, the 11-time World Cup medallist underlined her potential to be the very best in the world.

And before the Games began, Rahneva was faced with a mountain of a budget deficit to climb in her Olympic season, which she shared in a Tweet alongside her expenses spreadsheet:

Funding challenges were not new for this athlete who first broke into the sport while staying in a church basement for several months in Lake Placid, and who worked full-time as a caterer in Calgary while hoping to break onto the international scene.

Rahneva’s Tweet was certainly a reminder of the realities faced by many athletes in lower-profile sports, and speaks to the battle winter sports, in particular, face to be more inclusive. Many potential athletes who don’t come from wealthy families would likely shy away from chasing dreams when slapped by the fees required to reach for the top, though backing down from a challenge is not in Rahneva’s DNA.

One sponsor she did have in the lead-up to the Games came from the national team’s home city. Whistler Immigration provides services to newcomers, and having their logo on her helmet was extra special for Rahneva since her family moved to Canada from Bulgaria when she was 10.

Mimi Rahneva. File photo

“My mom had to learn English, and sell everything and fund her own way here,” Rahneva, who setup an online fundraiser to help fuel her Olympic season, highlighted during a pre-Games interview with the Sports Pages’ Ethan Diamandas.

Another organization that helped make a dent in the deficit is the Canadian Athletes Now Fund, which was founded by Ottawa native Jane Roos. The charity receives donations from the public and provides grants to deserving athletes – usually $6,000 to use however they see fit.

“Every athlete is so relieved to get funding,” Roos noted in an interview with the Sports Pages this past summer when she was busy dolling out grants for the first of two Olympics within 7 months. “And they’re often very moved. There’s this sense of, you’re getting $6,000 from a Canadian you’ve never met, who are doing that because they want you to succeed, because they want to be part of your journey.”

Half of Ottawa’s Olympians – speed skaters Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann, bobsledders Mike Evelyn and Cody Sorensen, hockey player Jamie Lee Rattray, ski cross racer Hannah Schmidt, and Rahneva – are current CAN Fund recipients.

Also on the list are all four members of the Canadian ski jumping team, which unexpectedly hit the podium earlier this Games.

“Ski Jumping is one of the most underfunded winter sports in Canada, with the average net income of a ski jumper applying to CAN Fund being negative $15,000,” Roos noted in an update to supporters. “To say this bronze medal has defied all odds is an understatement. In 2018, the ski jumping facilities in Calgary where the team trained were permanently closed.

“Left with no home hills, the team was forced to relocate to Slovenia full-time to train and to keep their Olympic dream alive. For a team that is essentially ‘self-funded’ and gets a fraction of what other nations get as far as access to basic equipment and resources, they have shown the world what hard work, sheer determination and resilience can achieve!”

With Canada sitting near the top of the overall medal standings at the midway point of the Olympics, Roos’ team is feeling very inspired.

“These Games have already given us so much as a country to celebrate,” underlined the former track-and-field competitor whose athletic career ended after a car accident at age 19. “Our athletes are showing the next generation of Canadian kids – who need positive role models now more than ever – that they can be anything they put their minds to, and in doing so, are reminding all of us young and old, athlete or not, that we can choose to go after life with passion, courage, and determination.”

New Olympic medallist Jack Crawford and his aunt Judy Crawford Rawley of Ottawa in 2017. Photo provided

Can’t get enough of it? High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary has continued to share stories on some neat local connections to the Games.

Canada’s next curling opponent, Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland, will be coached by Pierre Charette, and Canadian alpine ski medallist Jack Crawford’s aunt was thrilled to watch from her Ottawa home as her family’s 50-year-old 4th-place jinx ended.

Judy Crawford Rawley had an exceptional career as a Canadian alpine ski team member from 1968-74, but never placed higher than dreaded 4th place, which she hit many times.

“It’s fantastic,” Rawley said in a phone interview after watching her nephew’s triumph in the wee hours. “I’m so pleased for Jack. He has worked hard and consistent all the way through.

“It’s nice to get out of No. 4 and have a No. 3. It was so great to watch him. My heart was pounding.”

This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.

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