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Mirela Rahneva of Team Canada reacts after winning the Skeleton World Cup in Calgary, Alberta, February 22, 2019. (Photo: Todd Korol)

By Charlie Pinkerton

Winning on her home track was sort of reminiscent of being a kid again for skeleton racer Mimi Rahneva.

Except instead of her father timing her runs – which he would do for her sprints, when she wasn’t training with the Ottawa Lions – this time he was the one sprinting; After one of her runs at one of the World Cup races at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park track, she recalls her 61-year-old dad making a break for it to celebrate with his daughter, one of the fastest women in the world on a sled.

“It was a funny memory of him sprinting through snow to come up and say congrats,” Rahneva laughs.

During a year in which she bolstered her international medal count, that was one moment that stood out for the Ottawa athlete.

But alike childhood itself, the moment may be impossible to ever repeat. The Olympic Park’s track, which is used for bobsleigh, luge and skeleton, has since been closed temporarily and perhaps even for good.

It was put on ice following a vote by the residents of Calgary, who chose to opt out of bidding for an upcoming Olympic Games, meaning that Winsport, the track’s operator, needs to come up with an extra $8 million on top of the $17 million that two levels of government have said they’re willing to provide for necessary repairs.

Mirela Rahneva (C) of Canada celebrates her first place finish with Tina Hermann (L) who finished second and Elisabeth Maier of Canada who finished third during the Skelton World Cup in Calgary, Alberta, February 22, 2019. (Photo: Todd Korol)

Back-to-back races at the end of the season at the track was the first time that Rahneva, who moved to Ottawa from Bulgaria when she was 10, had raced in a World Cup event in Calgary.

As well as the site to one of her favourite moments of the season, Calgary’s track was also where her season hit its peak, after a slow start.

Suffering from a hangover of sorts from her finish at last year’s Olympics – Rahneva came in 12th, a disappointment by her standards – she told the Sportspage she found it difficult to get into a rhythm this year.

“Over the season and through some competitions of not putting up the results but trying to find the enjoyment of the sport again, I think I found it midseason,” Rahneva said.

From then on, Rahneva immitated her sport, accelerating towards the season’s end.

In the back half of International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Cup races she recorded finishes of 1st, 4th, and then 1st and 2nd at the Calgary events – putting her 3rd place overall at the finale of the season circuit, matching her standing from two years ago. At the back-to-back events in Calgary, she won her third World Cup gold medal and brought her total World Cup medal count to eight.

Weeks later at the IBSF World Championships in Whistler, Rahneva’s story was quite the opposite. She routinely registered some of the competition’s top start times but couldn’t keep the pace of her competition through her runs. She finished 12th overall at the season-ending event.

Looking to the future, Rahneva’s considering pursuing a master’s degree as early as next fall. She’s also trying to finding some time to visit Ottawa to see her young niece.

As far as skeleton goes, she hasn’t discounted gearing up for another run at the Olympics, three years from now.

“The year of the Games goes by really quickly, so it’s a lot closer than we think,” Rahneva says.

“I do want to be there (at the Olympics), so the goal is to compete, but we’ll see what happens.”

–With files from Dan Plouffe

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