By Dan Plouffe
Buoyed by a strong season in the lead-up to the 2023 Skeleton World Championships on Thursday/Friday, Mimi Rahneva is already riding high as she prepares to race at the place she always feels on top of the world.
The slider from Ottawa is entering the IBSF World Championships as the World Cup circuit’s #2-ranked athlete, and she’ll be racing on her favourite track in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
“The St. Moritz World Championships – I’ve dreamt about this for many, many years,” Rahneva told the Ottawa Sports Pages in an interview earlier this season. “Medaling at World Championships is goal #1 this year.”
St. Moritz is home to the world’s only natural ice track. The sled technology advantages owned by the Germans who dominate international bobsleigh/skeleton seem to be somewhat neutralized at the sport’s birthplace, favouring “gliders” like Rahneva over “drivers”.
Rahneva owns an excellent record in St. Moritz, which will host the World Championships for the first time since she emerged onto the global scene in 2016. The former Merivale High School and University of Guelph rugby player has two wins in five World Cup appearances in Switzerland, along with a third-place finish and two fourths.
She recorded what’s thought to be the World Cup circuit’s largest margin of victory ever at St. Moritz in her 2017 rookie season, but it’s more than just competitive success that’s made Rahneva fall in love with the Swiss mountain setting.
“When you arrive in Switzerland, and St. Moritz specifically, when you step outside into the fresh air, it’s like you’re breathing in champagne or something – it’s so intoxicating. It’s so posh and you really feel on top of the world,” Rahneva described.
“The track is incredible. So pristine and crystal clear. It’s made out of packed snow. It’s always sunny. These beautiful mountains, these beautiful sunrises, beautiful sunsets.
“Sliding there, I really feel truly in tune with the whole experience. The visuals are amazing. You can see these beautiful curves – they’re gentle in a way, nothing abrupt because there’s no structure underneath holding it together, no concrete involved. It’s so flow-y, you can dance your way down the track, which is so cool.”
Rahneva again related St. Moritz to art in a recent CBC Sports Players Own Voice podcast interview from Altenberg, Germany – where she recorded her second consecutive fourth-place finish Jan. 20 on a track where 11th was her previous best at a World Cup.
“If I can relate them to music, I would say that Altenberg is like metallic, hardcore, something insane where you’re like, ‘I’m going to go out hard,'” the 34-year-old detailed. “And then when you have St Moritz – it’s like a like a waltz. The rhythm of it is so nice and smooth and you just dance with it the whole way down. Those are the tracks that I enjoy – I like the waltzes.”
Rahneva has been through some difficult experiences in her skeleton careers in recent years – from carrying a heavy debt load in order to compete at last year’s Olympics (where she finished fifth), to recovering from spinal fusion surgery, and enduring boardroom drama while seeking leadership change at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.
But it hasn’t held her back this season as she’s placed seventh in Whistler (B.C.), first in Park City (Utah), eighth in Lake Placid (New York), second in Winterberg (Germany) and fourth (twice) in Altenberg (Germany).
“I’ve been working a lot on positive self-talk and believing in my ability, and I think it’s really turning things around,” Rahneva added in her POV interview, detailing the keys to her success this season. “Positivity is a really powerful tool and I hope I can share that with others and help them believe in themselves.”
Rahneva will race in the first two heats of the World Championships at 7:30 a.m. ET on Thursday morning (Jan. 26), with the final two runs Friday at the same time. The skeleton mixed team competition will then take place in the wee hours of Sunday, at 2 a.m. Ottawa time.
Livestreams of the IBSF World Championships will be carried on cbcsports.ca.
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