Martins Dukurs is back as he aims for a ninth title, and can Jacqueline Loelling defend the women's crown?

The new IBSF Skeleton World Cup season is here, with the opening event taking place this weekend in Sigulda, Latvia.

Martins Dukurs has changed his mind on retirement and will take to his home track to begin his chase for a ninth World Cup title.

And on the women's side, with Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold now retired, can Germany assert their dominance on the sport through Jacqueline Loelling once more?

The season will culminate with the world championships on the Vancouver 2010 sliding track in Whistler, Canada, in March.

Loelling gunning for hat-trick

Great Britain are well-represented at the top level of the sport with three gold medals at the Olympic Games since women's skeleton was introduced in 2002, but they are weakened ahead of this season.

Double Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold, but has decided to retire after a slipped disc in her back left her in so much pain that she at times has been unable to sit or stand.

The Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 champion leaves the sport as the most-decorated British Winter Olympian.

But she is not here this year, so let’s focus on those who are.

Skeleton champ Yarnold feels

Skeleton champ Yarnold feels "really good" after retirement

Fellow Brit Laura Deas took bronze in Korea earlier this year and should pose a threat. However, she will miss the opening event in Sigulda with concussion, and will likely only make her return at the second stop in Winterberg, Germany.

Germany are once again among the favourites. Jacqueline Loelling came second at PyeongChang 2018 and enters the season as the two-time defending overall World Cup winner. She is also the defending world champion, having won gold at Koenigsee in 2017.

Her biggest rival this year could be fellow German Tina Hermann, who finished just behind her in the overall standings the past two seasons and claimed the title in 2015/16.

Another one to watch is Austria’s Janine Flock, who finished fourth at PyeongChang 2018. However, she is struggling with back problems and will, like Deas, miss the season opener in Latvia.

Yun v Dukurs

The duel between Olympic Champion and defending World Cup overall title holder Yun Sung-bin and World and European champion Martins Dukurs should keep fans on edge.

South Korea’s Yun was dominant all winter last season whereas Latvia’s Martins Dukurs will be on his home track in the season opener.

By winning Olympic gold on home soil at PyeongChang 2018, Yun became his country’s first ever Olympic champion in any sliding sport. Still only 24, he still has many years to stamp his mark on skeleton.

In contrast, his rival Dukurs is ten years older and had originally decided to retire following a disappointing fourth place in PyeongChang. However, he changed his mind and will once again be taking to the track. He was the overall World Cup winner eight years in a row between 2010 and 2017, and will begin the 2018/2019 World Cup season with renewed motivation.

Don't count out his older brother Tomass or Germany's Axel Jungk either.

Olympic bronze medallist Dom Parsons joins his fellow Brit Yarnold off the circuit this year, although for a different reason. The 31-year-old is in the midst of completing his PhD in mechanical engineering.

Parsons became Britain's first male Olympic skeleton medallist for 70 years with his third-place finish at this year’s Games.

And last, but not least, don't forget to look out for the helmets!

See how Akwasi Frimpong decided on his awesome new skeleton helmet design

See how Akwasi Frimpong decided on his awesome new skeleton helmet design

World Cup Calendar

8–9 December 2018 Sigulda, Latvia

14 December 2018 Winterberg, Germany

4 January 2019 Altenburg, Germany

11 January 2019 Koenigsee, Germany

18 January 2019 Innsbruck, Austria

25 January 2019 St. Moritz, Switzerland

15–16 February 2019 Lake Placid, USA

23– 24 February 2019 Calgary, Canada

World Championships 7–8 March 2019 Whistler, Canada

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