Elisabeth Vathje wins 1st skeleton World Cup gold
Calgary native wins at home
Elisabeth Vathje's strong start in World Cup skeleton turned torrid as she won her first gold medal in just her second race.
The 20-year-old Calgarian was the fastest woman down her home track Friday at Canada Olympic Park. She earned a silver medal last week in her World Cup debut in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Vathje stood up in the track's outrun, danced a little jig and hugged her boyfriend Donovan Klassen after completing her second run Friday.
She posted a two-run time of one minute 55.31 seconds to beat runner-up Laura Deas of Britain by just over three-tenths of a second.
Vathje's parents Jeff and Rita, her brother Brandon and friends from her church were also trackside to celebrate.
"It's incredible," Vathje said. "To be home, to be around these people who have seen me grow up . . . it's truly amazing.
"There was a huge group of people and they were excited to see this in real life, to see what I do and see such great results."
Tina Hermann of Germany was third in 1:55.64. Vathje led after the first heat and a quick start time in her second run helped seal the victory.
Vathje (pronounced VAT-chee) leads the overall World Cup standings with two medals in as many races. The next stop on the circuit is Jan. 5-11 in Altenberg, Germany,
Reigning Olympic women's champion Elizabeth Yarnold of Britain beat Vathje for gold in Lake Placid, but Yarnold didn't race in Calgary because of dizziness she experienced in those first races.
Concussions are an issue in skeleton because athletes' heads can make hard contact with the track and also because of the constant shaking of their heads on the way down.
Martins Dukurs wins again
The Dukurs brothers from Latvia duked it out for gold and silver in the men's race Friday. Olympic silver medallist Martins Dukurs prevailed in one minute 51.06 seconds for his second straight win. Tomass Dukurs was second in 1:51.96
Sungbin Yun of South Korea earned bronze for his country's first World Cup medal in a sliding sport.
"This is good for the sport, getting more and more countries on the podium," Tomass Dukurs said.
Vathje took up skeleton at the relatively young age of 14. She's a "seasoned rookie" after seven years of sliding on the developmental circuits.
She says a combination of factors contributed to her hot start, but the key components are a new sled designed by Richard Bromley of Britain and finding corporate sponsors to help her pursue her dreams.
Her $10,000 sled is almost a full second faster than her former model.
"It's really cool to have that technology and be able to race on it," Vathje said. "It's a fast sled and I'm excited to see what it can do the rest of the year.
"It's pretty too. That's what I tell everybody. They're like 'really, out of everything you say, it's pretty?' I'm like 'yeah, it's pretty.'
"Look good, feel good, race good."
Vathje recalled finishing dead last at her first world junior championships at age 16 in Park City, Utah.
"It was pretty devastating," she said. "It's like 'are you kidding me? Why am I in this sport? Why am I doing it?'
"My ultimate goal is to stand atop the podium in Pyeongchang, to represent Canada.
"I want to be able to show these girls who are watching me that they have worth, to show them there's something more than getting their worth from boys, or worth from things that aren't valuable. Show them there's more to them than what they see."
Lanette Prediger of Calgary was seventh and Madison Charney of Brooks, Alta., placed 10th in the women's race.
Top Canadian man 8th
Dave Greszczyszyn of Brampton, Ont., tied for eighth among the men. Calgarians Barrett Martineau and Greg Rafter didn't qualify for the second men's heat.
The skeleton team's Own The Podium funding dropped from an annual average of $876,250 from 2010 to 2014 to $20,000 for 2014-15. Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton pays for athletes' travel, accommodation and meals at competitions and also the salary of one coach Ivo Pakalns.
Vathje bears the cost of her other coaches Bromley and Charles Wlodarczak, her strength and conditioning coach Rob Gray and her equipment. So corporate sponsorship has been another major piece in her early success this winter.
Vathje's runs weren't entirely smooth. Her experience on the Calgary track may have helped her compensate for bumping the side walls, according to MellisaHollingsworth, the 2006 Olympic bronze medallist who provided television commentary Friday.
"She's fast at the top," Hollingsworth said. "She's new to the World Cup, but she's been here for six years. Lake Placid, Calgary, the tracks she's travelled to, she's got a good amount of experience. This is just a little bit different experience."
Olympic women's bobsled champion Kaillie Humphries will race Saturday at Calgary Olympic Park and will also make her World Cup debut piloting a four-man sled.