Jane Channell, rising skeleton star, reaps benefits of Vancouver Olympics

Jane Channell points to two key moments that set her on the path to skeleton racing. The second happened when Canada's Jon Montgomery won skeleton gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games in Whistler, capturing the nation's attention with his memorable victory.

North Vancouver native stirred by Montgomery's 2010 gold

In just her second season competing on skeleton's World Cup circuit, North Vancouver's Jane Channell has already been on the podium twice and is rapidly improving her sliding skill. (Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

Jane Channell points to two key moments that set her on the path to skeleton racing.

The first came during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City as she watched the sliders zoom past on television with her grandfather.

"He turned to me and said 'Oh they're crazy,"' the North Vancouver, B.C., native recalled recently. "To half get under his skin I told myself that's something I want to try."

The second happened eight years later when Canada's Jon Montgomery won skeleton gold at the Vancouver Games in Whistler, capturing the nation's attention with his memorable victory and celebratory beer chug.

"It was just amazing," Channell added. "It definitely sparked the dream I have now to go to the Olympics and represent Canada."

She's now well on her way.

Channell had already been in contact with the Canadian bobsled team before 2010, but was told she would need to gain 30 pounds to be considered. Scoffing at that idea, she turned to skeleton, a sport where competitors race down icy chutes on sleds head first.

The former university track athlete and softball player moved to Whistler soon after and made Canada's World Cup squad last season before finishing a surprising fourth at the world championships. She's taken the next step with a silver and a bronze in World Cup races in 2015-16 — her first medals — and has been in the mix almost every week.

"She's a phenomenal physical athlete. She's just building her sliding skill year after year after year," said Chris Le Bihan, the high performance director for Canada's bobsled and skeleton teams. "To see her progress like this is exactly what we'd hoped for."

Channell competed on her home track at the Whistler Sliding Centre for the first time last week as the World Cup circuit returned to the venue for the first time since 2012. She finished fourth, about a second back of Germany's Tina Hermann for gold, but set a new record at the venue for the fastest start.

"It's still a work in progress," said the Simon Fraser University grad. "But I know that I'm progressing in the right direction."

Direct result of facilities

The Canadian team has trumpeted Channell as the first "legacy baby" of the 2010 Olympics — an athlete who has reached elite status as a direct result of the facilities built for the Games.

Le Bihan said learning the sport on the Whistler track, considered one of the most challenging in the world because of its speed and technical requirements, gives new competitors a superior foundation.

"The sliding track is probably the only venue producing national team athletes as a legacy piece," said Le Bihan, who won bronze in four-man bobsled at the Vancouver Games. "The big thing about that track is when you develop people on it you tend to have a quicker learning curve of getting to a higher echelon of sliding ability."

Building on her career as a sprinter, Channell is quick off the mark in races and eager to return to the more friendly "starter's tracks" in Europe ahead of next month's world championships in Igls, Austria.

"I'm excited to have raced [in Whistler], but I'm also looking forward to the next tracks," she said. "Igls, I'm really looking forward to, because it's a pusher's track and I like pushing things."

Channell currently sits third in the World Cup standings with 1122 points, behind Hermann (1302) and German teammate Jacqueline Loelling (1148).

While unseating Hermann for the season is unlikely, the world championships could be a different story when it comes down to one race at a place like Igls.

"That fast explosive push with two perfect, consistent runs," Channell said of what it will take to top the podium. "[Hermann] is a very good slider. She has consistent lines. She is one of the best drivers out there.

"So if I can beat her, if anyone can beat her ... good job."