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Lotholz makes successful return to bobsleigh World Cup circuit

Barrhead bobsledder captures NAC over all titles in two women and monobob events

BARRHEAD — Melissa Lotholz may not have gotten the results she wished on her return to the World Cup bobsleigh circuit, but she considers it a success.

That is what the 31-year-old, 10-year veteran of Canada's women's bobsleigh and County of Barrhead native told the Town & Country This Week as she drove to Calgary to finish some last-minute items at the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton headquarters before dashing off for her next challenge — coaching at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

After taking a year's hiatus from the sport to recharge her batteries and complete her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Food Sciences degree with a minor in physical activity from the University of Alberta, Lotholz resumed her bobsleigh career, competing in the North American Cup (NAC) circuit where she captured the overall title in the two-woman bobsleigh with her brakeman Alex Klein as well as in in the monobob.

The NAC is a step below and is the feeder or farm team for the World Cup circuit.

In the six two-women bobsleigh events before the mid-season break, Lotholz only missed the podium once, in the fourth race of the season in Whistler in early December, where she finished fifth. Her other finishes included two first-place finishes, the first in Whistler in early December, and her other victory was two weeks later in Park City, Utah. She also earned three silver medals.

Over the same period, she also competed in the solo monobob event, finishing with three first-place finishes, two silver, and one third-place finish. 

During the NAC break, Lotholz headed to Europe to compete in a Europe Cup race, the European equivalent to the NAC.

In two Europe Cup two-women races, in Innsbruck, Austria, on Feb. 2 and 3, Lotholz finished sixth with brakeman Leanna Garcia and fourth with Klein in the back seat.

Following the races, Lotholz joined the Canadian women's squad in Winterberg, Germany, in preparation for the upcoming World Championships.

"It is a track that I've only been on during an Olympic season [2021/2022], so it was nice to go back early and get some runs ahead of the two weeks of world championships," she said. "It ended up being a hectic week. There was a lot of physical [dry land training], sliding, and administration stuff."

Lotholz also called the Winterberg track "weird," saying it is easier to get down, but it is one of the most technical.

"You don't have a lot of speed for the first half of the track, and because you are not going as fast, any mistake you make can cost you a lot of time," she said, adding that because of the slower speeds, getting off the line and the push start is even more critical. 

Following the training camp, Lotholz and the rest of her teammates had a week off from bobsleigh, except for some dry land training, before the World Championships in Winterberg, noting it was a welcomed break.

"It has been a real busy season, and we are taking on a lot more responsibility than normal," she said, adding that the athletes are being asked to take a more proactive role in finding funding for the program.

Lotholz said that in addition to the training camp, the team launched its social media fundraising blitz to raise money for the upcoming sliding sports World Championship.

She added funding cuts to Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, which have meant athletes must find ways to help fund the program for travel, accommodation, and even sled rental.

She noted that renting the monobob she used to compete in the World Championships costs just under 3,000 Euros.

"All of that is costly enough, but when you factor in the weakness of the Canadian dollar, it becomes a much more difficult mountain to overcome," Lotholz said, adding the two weeks at the World Champions cost more than the entire first half of the NAC season.

"That is why the support I've received from the community through their donations and sponsorship means so much," she said.

Lotholz specifically singled out local sponsors, including Stephani Motors, Barrhead Fountain Tire, Comfort Corner, and GT Storage, along with other Alberta sponsors, such as 111st Street Skate Sharpening, Kardia, MNP, and Peace Hills Insurance.

Lotholz's performance at the World Championships was mixed. In monobob, she finished 14th and 17th in the two-women event with Klein as brakeman.

"Even though I wished I could have placed higher, the World Championships was a great experience," she said. "Germany always does a great job of hosting and promoting bobsleigh events. The locals always come out, and the events are always well-attended, making them a lot of fun. It is not something I have experienced since COVID."

Following the World Championships, Lotholz rushed back to Canada and then Lake Placid to rejoin the NAC, where she won the final monobob race and placed third in the second to last two-women event. Having already secured the NAC overall title opted not to compete in the final two-women NAC race.

History and going forward

For most of her tenure with the national team, Lotholz served as a brakeman, primarily for former Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries, where the pair earned 17 World Cup medals, not including two World Championship silver medals. In 2018, she served as Christine de Bruin's brakeman for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the duo finished seventh. Following that Olympics, Lotholz jumped to the front seat and represented Canada at the Beijing Winter Olympics, piloting Canada's third sled with brakeman Sara Villani. The duo finished 12th.

Her eventual goal is not only to qualify for her third and second Olympics as a bobsleigh pilot, scheduled for the 2026 Olympics in Milan-Cortina, Italy but also to be a medal threat.

But to do that, Lotholz realizes she must return to the World Cup circuit as a regular.

"For me, coming back to elite sports and having to start from scratch, on top of all the other obstacles such as us essentially having to fund our own season, and the logistics of doing all of this on our own, and still having to compete and overcome other obstacles such as injuries, to be at the start line at world championships and be able to compete at that level was a win," she said, adding she hoped use her experience to build on in her attempt to make it back on to the World Cup circuit full-time.

Something that the Canadian Women's Bobsleigh team made a bit easier due to their performance at the World Championships was requalifying a third sled for next season.

Lotholz also believes her experience as a coach will help her achieve her goal. 

[Coaching] will push me to understand the sport more, which will only help me as I continue as a driver," she said. "It will also give me a chance to help invest in the next generation in the sport and share my knowledge."

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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