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New winter sports season about to heat up for Ottawa’s 2022 Olympians

By Dan Plouffe

November hasn’t yet shown many signs of winter arriving in the nation’s capital, but snow does appear in the forecast for next week, and Ottawa’s top athletes on ice and snow are all ready to go as their 2022-2023 season takes off.

Olympic champion speed skaters Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann race in their first long-track World Cup of the season this weekend in Norway, while Ottawa’s sliders will be the first local athletes to compete in Canada when their ride begins on the world’s fastest track.

“Our season’s starting in Whistler, which is an amazing place,” highlights Beijing 2022 fifth-place finisher Mimi Rahneva, who will compete in the first International Bobsleigh Skeleton Federation World Cup of the 2022-2023 campaign from Nov. 24-26.

“Everyone’s trickling into town, so all your friends are coming back. I’m really excited. I think that it’s going to be a great year.”

Rahneva scored a major preseason victory already. The 34-year-old skeleton slider is part of a group of athletes pursuing leadership change in their sport, and their preferred candidate Tara McNeil was acclaimed as Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s new president on Nov. 5.

Read More: Ottawa slider ‘shocked’ by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton CEO’s exit, but excited to have ‘new people with new ideas’

It was a winding road to get to that end result after Rahneva and others spoke out about issues such as funding, athlete health and safety, and organizational culture earlier this year. Freshly elected to BCS’s board of directors as skeleton athlete representative herself, Rahneva expects that her performance this season won’t be negatively impacted by the energy she’s devoted to boardroom work.

“I feel like I’ve gotten really good after last year about compartmentalizing,” explains the winner of 11 career World Cup medals. “Whatever chaos may be going on, I like to put it in a little compartment box, shelve it for the time being, then do my thing, and then I can pick it out and deal with it later.”

Mike Evelyn had two fourth-place finishes on last season’s World Cup circuit. File photo

Fellow 2022 Olympian Mike Evelyn of Ottawa is expected to push for one of Canada’s top bobsleds this season, likely both in two-man and four-man competition.

With 2022 Olympic bronze medallist Justin Kripps now retired, Ottawa’s Pat Norton could get the chance to race on the World Cup circuit this year. (BCS has not yet announced its national team members for this coming season.) The 30-year-old pilot was ranked sixth on the North American Cup circuit last season.

The Ottawa sliders will make their closest tour stop to home for the Dec. 16-18 World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., while the World Championships are Jan. 26-Feb. 5 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Their final World Cup event of the season concludes on Feb. 19.

Mimi Rahneva. File photo

“The St. Moritz World Championships – I’ve dreamt about this for many, many years,” signals Rahneva, who recorded what’s thought to be the World Cup circuit’s largest margin of victory ever on the St. Moritz natural ice track in her 2017 rookie season.

“Medaling at World Championships is goal #1 and I really want to go after a Crystal Globe this year as well,” adds Rahneva, who would like to win the World Cup circuit’s top prize after finishing third in the overall standings in 2017 and 2019.

Last season, “it was a bit tough coming back from injury (spinal fusion surgery) and not sliding much the year prior, so it took me a while to get my bearings. This year, I’m coming out strong, hopefully from the get-go,” she indicates.

Skating, skiing, curling & hockey action coming up, including Ottawa events

After winning their first Olympic medals at Beijing 2022, Blondin and Weidemann will get their World Cup long-track speed skating seasons underway on home ice Dec. 9-11 in Calgary.

Ivanie Blondin (left) and Isabelle Weidemann (centre) won Olympic gold in team pursuit alongside Valérie Maltais in Beijing. File photo

The Gloucester Concordes Speed Skating Club products showed fine form at October’s Canadian championships, combining to win four of the six women’s events at the nationals.

They are scheduled to compete in all four of the fall’s World Cups, while Vincent de Haître and Jake Weidemann will race in the back-to-back events in Calgary from Dec. 9-11 and Dec. 16-18 when Canada has additional host entries. Gatineau’s Cédrick Brunet also cracked Canada’s World Cup speed skating lineup for all the fall events.

Jamie Lee Rattray. File photo

Olympic champion Jamie Lee Rattray is one of six local players competing in this season’s four-team PWHPA Dream Gap Tour, as their union seeks to establish a top-flight women’s professional hockey league. They’ll be in town for games and the PWHPA’s first-ever all-star weekend from Dec. 9-11. The 2023 Women’s Hockey World Championship will be held in Canada, though the dates and host city have not yet been announced (early April is the traditional time).

Ottawa ski cross Olympians Hannah and Jared Schmidt will also have a big event on Canadian soil this season with the World Cup finals set for Mar. 17-19 in Collingwood, Ont. Their World Cup campaign starts on Dec. 8 in France, with the World Championships set for Feb. 24-25 in Georgia.

Beijing 2022 Olympians Rachel Homan, John Morris and Lisa Weagle are already back in action leading Ottawa curlers in national and international events. The Scotties Tournament of Hearts women’s national championship is set for Feb. 17-26, the Brier men’s championship goes Mar. 3-12, the Canadian mixed doubles championship is Mar. 21-26, and Ottawa will host the World Men’s Curling Championship Apr. 1-9 at TD Place.

Olympians Katherine Stewart-Jones of Chelsea and Antoine Cyr of Gatineau will begin their World Cup cross-country skiing season on Nov. 26 in Finland, while St-Isidore alpine skier Valérie Grenier will also hit the slopes to start her World Cup season in late November.

Ottawa’s 2022 Paralympians in para ice hockey and para alpine skiing are still awaiting word on for their sports’ plans for 2023 world championships. The Canadian para ice hockey team will host a four-nation tournament in Nova Scotia from Nov. 27-Dec. 3, with an international para alpine skiing race scheduled for the same dates in Alberta.

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