Bobsleigh pilots and skeleton athletes who miss out on a season during maternity leave will soon be able to return to competition without re-qualifying.
But the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) won’t implement the rule in time for Canadian skeleton racer Elisabeth Maier, who is returning to the sport this season after giving birth to her son Hendrix on Christmas Eve last year.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “Sure wish it was coming in this year, of course. But change takes time and I’m glad to see that the IBSF is leading the way in this and changing it so moms can come back — and come back and kick some butt.”
The IBSF will grant World Cup and Intercontinental Cup athletes a quota spot in the series when they return after one season.
This quota spot will be linked to the athlete´s name, said the release, and will be on top of any other quota spots assigned to each national federation.
The rule comes into effect after the 2022 Olympics for the next cycle of the Winter Games.
“With this decision, we pave the way for female athletes to come back to competition after maternity leave,” said Ivo Ferriani, president of the IBSF, in a media release. “It will give new opportunities to our female athletes.”
Without the change, Maier said, competition and return is that much trickier.
Heading into last season, Canada had six national team spots — three World Cup and three Intercontinental Cup. Those spots have dropped, meaning around seven athletes are looking at filling four available spots.
When Maier begins selection races, she’ll be less than 10 months postpartum. Her teammate, Lanette Prediger, will also be around eight months postpartum.
“We’re expecting our bodies to perform at the best level it could ever potentially to get back on World Cup, get back on ICC, so that we can compete still,” Maier, 26, from Calgary, said.
The Olympic athlete spoke to CBC Sports earlier this fall about her six days of labour, emergency C-section, and her drive to honour sons and mothers worldwide in her upcoming season.
The skeleton racer says she’s been putting in the work and is physically at the “best I’ve ever been in my life.”
She’s also thankful for a strong support team, among the group being her husband, Austrian bobsledder Benjamin Maier and her coach, who stays on top of research for working with postpartum athletes.
Maier was the top-ranked Canadian in women’s skeleton at her Olympic debut in PyeongChang in 2018, finishing ninth. The Calgarian also had a third-place finish in the World Cup standings that year and claimed her first Crystal Globe.
Maier is currently in selections for the World Cup team. Olympic selection will most likely be completed sometime in January 2022, with the criteria being published one year out.
She pointed to skeleton racer Shelly Rudman — a 2006 Olympic silver medallist who came back to win a world championship after giving birth — as leading the charge and source of inspiration.
Maier also noted American Noelle Pikus-Pace, who returned after having two children and won an Olympic silver medal in Sochi.
“These moms are not coming back just to say ‘we came back.’ They’re coming back to be on that podium,” she said. “That’s where I got inspired from. And I’m thankful that they paved the way for me to even believe that this is a reality.”
It’s a far cry from old-school thinking, she said, where having a baby meant ending a career.
While Maier says it’s unfortunate the rule didn’t come in earlier, there are still other organizations that continue to implement difficult measures blocking postpartum athletes from returning to sport and classifications that count pregnancy as an “injury.”
“I think it’s delayed, I think it should be across all sports, but in this way, I guess we are leading the way,” she said, adding she hopes other sport federations follow suit.
“We get to lead the way for other moms in the future.”