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Skeleton racer Jane Channell redefines glory during challenging Olympic season

Olympians fighting an 'invisible battle' with COVID-19 while trying to train and compete, North Vancouver racer says
Jane Channell skeleton web 2
North Vancouver's Jane Channell flies down a skeleton track on the World Cup circuit.

North Vancouver’s Jane Channell has made the Canadian Olympic team for the second time as a skeleton racer.

Now comes the hard part: staying healthy for the next three weeks.

That, at least, is how it feels for Channell, who is back home now after more than three months on the road, first doing Olympic test runs in China before hitting the World Cup circuit in Europe. It’s been a nerve-wracking Olympic year for her and for many of her fellow competitors, as they’ve been balancing the dual pursuits of putting up fast times on the track while also putting up clean COVID-19 results.

No matter how fast they’ve been going on the track, a positive test now would grind their Olympic journey to a complete halt. That’s the major concern for Channell right now, who at age 33 is in her racing prime. The last thing she’d want is a test result forcing her to miss her sport’s biggest stage, one that only comes around every four years.

“[I’m] hiding out in my parents’ basement and avoiding everybody and anybody,” Channell said with a laugh when the North Shore News asked about her pre-Olympic plans, adding that even though she has officially been named to the Olympic team, nothing is guaranteed yet in the pandemic world. “I'll believe it when I'm on the plane. … Even if you’re named to the team, you still have to fight that invisible battle with COVID-19 and not catch it, because if you test positive within 14 days of your flight scheduled out, then you're not going.”

It’s made for a skeleton season that has been just as taxing mentally as it has been physically, which is really saying something given the rigours of a sport that starts with an all-out sprint on ice followed by a face-first sled race down a treacherous track.

Channell grew up as a multi-sport athlete in North Vancouver before focusing on track and field and softball when she attended Simon Fraser University. Her Olympic dreams were piqued during the 2010 Olympics, and one year later, after graduating from SFU, she moved to Whistler and threw herself into the world of face-first racing.

It’s a high-adrenaline sport, but this year, the scariest part by far was the ever-present threat of the virus.  

“I can't even begin to describe the weight of COVID-19 that was on everybody,” she said. “We're all exhausted. And just so tired of just being on edge all the time. And I feel guilty being out there with the world burning, essentially, again, and I'm just thankful for the opportunity to be here, but my God am I tired.”

And hanging over it all is the fear that one of their COVID tests, administered at least twice a week, will come back positive.  

“That’s a constant fear – it keeps me up at night,” she said, adding that her recent foray through Europe for World Cup races was spent almost entirely on her own, as she lived alone in Airbnbs and rented cars by herself the entire time.

“I have my own little bubble,” she said. “It makes for a long, lonely tour.”

All that being said, Channell is thrilled to be getting the opportunity to compete at her second Olympic Games. The Handsworth Secondary grad and former track star finished 10th in 2018, and placed inside the top 10 in each of her final three World Cup races of this season before the Olympic break.

She’ll be gunning for a medal in Beijing, but she said she won’t judge her success at these Games by her ranking in the final standings.

Channell is one of the faces of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Glory From Anywhere campaign for the 2022 Games. The campaign, which will see Channell featured on billboards around the country, focuses on the glory the athletes achieve in the effort and determination they show on their journey to the Games, not simply on the fleeting moments on the podium that a small fraction of athletes achieve.

That message resonated deeply with Channell during this difficult campaign.

“Glory isn't defined by a medal, it's not defined by winning all the time – it's the little things that you do that really truly matter,” she said. “I fully stand behind [the message], especially this year. It is the little things that bring light to your day. It is all about finding that strength from within, persevering and pushing through. The tagline ‘Glory from anywhere’ just encompasses so much, and I think it's something that not just Canada, but the world can really stand behind.”

The Olympic skeleton races are scheduled for Feb. 10-12, with the women’s heats on Friday, Feb. 11, and finals on Saturday, Feb. 12.