New-look Team Canada returns to Whistler for bobsleigh, skeleton World Cup

Expectations are high as Cynthia Appiah and the rest of Team Canada kick off a new bobsleigh and skeleton World Cup season in Whistler, B.C., on Thursday.

Canadian contingent full of fresh faces after spate of post-Olympic retirements

Cynthia Appiah, seen above in February 2021, is one of few returnees to the Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton team for the 2022-23 season, which begins Thursday in Whistler, B.C. (Matthias Schrader/The Associated Press)

Canadian bobsledder Cynthia Appiah knows she's on the radar heading into a new season.

The 32-year-old Torontonian grabbed attention last year, finishing third overall in the women's monobob world series and taking eighth place finishes in both monobob and two-woman bobsleigh at the Beijing Olympics.

Expectations are high as Appiah and the rest of Team Canada kick off a new bobsleigh and skeleton World Cup season in Whistler, B.C., on Thursday.

"The opportunity is there to continue on with that momentum that was created," Appiah said. "I've got a target on my back."

Live coverage of the World Cup begins Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET with men's skeleton on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Action continues through Saturday.

The Canadian contingent will be full of fresh faces this season.

Several veterans bobsledders retired after last year's Beijing Games, including two-time Olympic medallist Justin Kripps and his teammates Ryan Sommer and Cameron Stone. Fellow pilot Chris Spring won't compete this season after undergoing knee surgery in April.

The absences make way for emerging athletes like Taylor Austin, a pilot who's moved up from the development team to the squad that will compete on the World Cup circuit.

"It's exciting. Very exciting. It's something that I've always dreamt of," said the 32-year-old Calgarian. "But now that we're in the space, I'm just trying to navigate and be the best that I can be and kind of see where I stack up to the rest of the world."

There are changes on the women's side, too, after pilot Christine de Bruin — who won Olympic bronze in Beijing — was handed a three-year suspension for a doping violation earlier this month.

It was more bad news for an already embattled national sporting organization.

Unrest within organization

More than 70 current and former bobsleigh and skeleton athletes began calling for change within Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton last March, citing what they called a toxic environment of maltreatment within the organization.

BCS held a contentious annual general meeting in September that was suddenly adjourned. A makeup meeting on Nov. 6 saw Calgary sport physiologist Tara McNeil named the organization's new president.

It hasn't been easy for athletes to deal with everything happening around the organization, Appiah said.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't impact me," she said. "But one of the things that any athlete will tell you is that you have to be resilient, and you have to be able to pivot and move on to the next direction and continue onward.

"If you kind of get stuck dwelling on these things, it's just going to impact your performance and your team overall."

Now the country's bobsleigh and skeleton athletes are focused on racing.

WATCH | Athletes describe turmoil within Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton:

Athletes describe toxic culture at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

9 months ago
Duration 2:19
Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton athletes are calling for the resignation of two top officials with Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton following issues with how the organization handled safety concerns and complaints.

New duo

Appiah has been in Whistler for about five weeks preparing for the World Cup season. In addition to training, she raced in the North American Cup earlier this month, finishing second in two-woman bobsleigh with Leah Walkeden.

Walkeden, a 29-year-old former track athlete at the University of Alberta, comes from the development program and adds a lot to the partnership, Appiah said.

"I think she compliments a lot of the things that I tend to struggle with, which is a lot of that over speed, that top speed mechanics. I'm not a sprinter and she is," she said. "And that's kind of what drew me to her."

The duo will have stiff competition in Whistler this week where they're set to go up against current world champion Kallie Humphries, who competes for the U.S. after starting her bobsleigh career with Canada.

Appiah will also face Humphries in the monobob, which is making its World Cup debut this season. Humphries won gold in the event in Beijing.

Home-ice advantage

Getting to start the year at Whistler — a track that hasn't hosted the World Cup since 2019 — is a boon for the Canadians, Appiah said.

"That home advantage that you gain over your competitors, it's so important," she said.

The competition will begin Thursday with men's and women's skeleton. Friday will feature women's monobob and the two-man bobsleigh, while the two-woman bobsleigh and four-man bobsleigh will go on Saturday.

With files from CBC Sports

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