Canada has withdrawn its bobsled team from this weekend's World Cup races in Germany, citing safety concerns after a crash sent three of the team's sliders to hospital.
All three sliders — pilot Chris Spring of Calgary and push athletes Graeme Rinholm of Saskatoon and Bill Thomas of Queensville, Ont., — were expected to remain hospitalized through at least the weekend. Spring needed to be airlifted to a hospital because of the severity of his injuries, which include deep cuts and bruises, along with a broken nose.
Rinholm broke one of his legs and Thomas has bruised lungs and other minor trauma, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton said Friday in a statement.
Spring crashed twice in three attempts to get his four-man sled down the track this week, but Canadian coaches and teammates insisted he is qualified to drive at Altenberg.
Canadian coach Tom de la Hunty said he made the decision to pull the team from the competition.
'My ultimate responsibility is the health and safety of the team of athletes I represent.' — Canadian head coach Tom De La Hunty
He added the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation failed to make necessary safety changes to the portion of the track where Spring crashed on Thursday.
"It's unsafe," de la Hunty said on a conference call. "And basically the FIBT are currently hoping that no one's going to make a mistake. They're not ensuring that no one is going to make a mistake. They are hoping."
The fourth World Cup stop of the season for bobsled and skeleton started Friday in Altenberg, considered by many sliders to be one of the toughest tracks in the world. Canadian racers are competing in skeleton, but not bobsled.
"It's my favourite place to slide," said pilot Lyndon Rush of Humboldt, Sask., who was angered by de la Hunty's decision but added he understood why it was made. "When I go down it in a four-man bobsled, there's no feeling like it. It's the best adrenaline rush."
Rush said if he was given the choice, he would have raced this weekend as scheduled.
Spring's crash took place Thursday in the final curves of the 17-turn track. Rush, who was watching the run on television monitors, said Spring's sled tipped in Curve 15, and that a wave of momentum overpowered the sled from there.
Spring's sled struck the wooden roof of the track, causing considerable damage. The roof was repaired by Friday morning but was not accompanied with other changes that de la Hunty wanted.
Rush also said it was snowing at the time, adding to the level of difficulty.
"Usually you can tell if a pilot's nervous by their start time and they started really slow, so they were probably quite nervous," Rush said. "And then you add to that the snow that was accumulating on his visor and it probably increased the anxiety a bit."
De la Hunty said the athletes were disappointed but agreed with his decision.
Vertical Drop: 122.22m
Max Grade: 15%
Avg Grade: 8.65%
"My ultimate responsibility is the health and safety of the team of athletes I represent," said De La Hunty. "I am simply not comfortable sending them down this track under these conditions, and I am confident this is the right decision for the best interest of our entire team and national program."
Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton chief executive officer Don Wilson called the crash an "extremely unfortunate incident."
"The reality is all high-performance sport has a significant element of risk to it and unfortunately sometimes these incidents occur," he said. "That being said, we have complete trust and support in Tom and our experienced staff that they are making the proper decisions to ensure the safety of our athletes."
Spring was born in Australia and represented that country in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics before switching to the Canadian team after that season. He applied for Canadian citizenship even before those Olympics formally ended, saying he was frustrated over the direction of the Australian program and what he described as a lack of funding.
Australia pulled out of the four-man event in Vancouver after a series of crashes depleted the team's roster and left two athletes with concussions.
It was at those Vancouver Games when safety again moved to the forefront of conversations about sliding sports. Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed in a training run and died hours before the opening ceremony, his head smashing into a metal beam after his body sailed over the track wall at nearly 145 km/h when he lost control near the finish line.
The Canadian bobsled team will return to the World Cup circuit at Konigssee, Germany from Jan. 13-15.