Canadians Vathje, Channell slide to top-10 skeleton finishes

Teammate Mirela Rahneva 12th; Britain's Lizzy Yarnold sets track record in defending gold

Canadians Vathje, Channell slide to top-10 skeleton finishes
Elisabeth Vathje was one of two Canadians to crack the top 10 in Saturday's women's Olympic skeleton, finishing ninth in a four-run time of three minutes 28.65 seconds in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Teammates Jane Channell and Mirela Rahneva were 10th and 12th, respectively. © Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports

Elisabeth Vathje saved her best performance for her final run Saturday in women's skeleton, but it wasn't enough to reach the podium as the Calgarian placed ninth at the Olympics in Pyeonchang, South Korea.

Vathje, who earned her first Crystal Globe this season with a third-place finish in the overall World Cup standings, posted a four-run time of three minutes 28.65 seconds at the Alpensia Sliding Centre. Fellow Canadians Jane Channell (3:29.07) and Mirela Rahneva (3:29.52) finished inside the top 15 in 10th and 12th, respectively. All three were making their Olympic debut.

The 23-year-old Vathje sat eighth in the field of 20 entering Saturday's final two runs but was unable to gain ground despite a much better push on her final run of 51.82.

Channell, 29, also clocked her best time of 52.09 on her fourth run. The native of North Vancouver, B.C., was fifth in the overall World Cup standings, thanks to a silver medal in Whistler, B.C., and four sixth-place finishes.

Channell joined the World Cup circuit in the second half of the 2014-15 season and broke out at the 2015 world championships, finishing fourth and missing the podium by 6-100ths of a second.

Meanwhile, two hits against the wall by Rahneva in her fourth run prevented a chance to squeeze into the top 10. Eighth on the World Cup scene this season, the Ottawa native competed with a heavy heart in South Korea following the death of her mom, Valentina, last June from cancer.

Season of struggles

As a tribute, the younger Rahneva raced with helmet art, courtesy of Calgary artist Shane Haltman.

The Bulgarian-born racer made the podium four times during her rookie season in 2016-17, including a victory in only the 29-year-old's fifth race. But Rahneva struggled this campaign, finishing with a single bronze and a trio of fourth-place finishes.

Lizzy Yarnold successfully defended her Winter Games title — the first from Great Britain to do so — by clocking a total time of 3:27.28 that included a 51.46-second track record on her fourth run. She is also the first woman to medal in back-to-back Olympics in skeleton, this after reportedly suffering from inner-ear problems that affected her balance.

British women have now medalled at every skeleton competition since the sport was reintroduced to the Winter Games in 2002.

Yarnold trailed leader Janine Flock by 2-100ths of a second after the third run but made up that time and more to beat the Austrian by nearly a half-second. She also set a track record in her first run on Friday.

Yarnold was the only athlete in Saturday's competition with an Olympic skeleton medal, but the 29-year-old endured a season of mixed results, winning just one medal (bronze) at the season-opening World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Nov. 9.

She finished fourth at the final skeleton World Cup of the season in Konigssee, Germany, won by hometown favourite Jacqueline Loelling, this season's overall World Cup champion.

Flock falls from 1st to 4th

On Saturday, Loelling picked up 2-10ths of a second at the bottom of the track to secure a silver medal. It represented Germany's third Winter Games medal but it has yet to win a skeleton title. Britain's Laura Deas was third.

Flock, the last competitor who could take away gold from Yarnold, was only 10th-fastest in the final heat, slipping all the way to fourth in 3:27.92.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Yarnold said softly to Flock as they embraced afterward.

With files from The Associated Press