Canadian bobsleigh team looks to build on early success
Canucks took home 3 medals at last weekend's World Cup stop
Chris Le Bihan hunkered down at his Calgary office with staff members last Friday to watch Canada's bobsledders compete at the season's second World Cup stop.
By the time the sliders walked off the track in Park City, Utah, they had raced to one of the best showings in the program's history on the circuit.
Justin Kripps piloted one Canadian sled to a silver in four-man, Chris Spring was just 0.03 seconds back in third, and two-time Olympic gold medallist Kaillie Humphries took second in the women's event.
"The amount of celebration there in our little offices was pretty awesome," said Le Bihan, Canada's high performance director for bobsled and skeleton. "It shows the depth of our program. I'm having conversations with the other nations. The Germans are coming up to me saying, 'Chris, the program is strong. What's changed?'
"I'm like, 'We're Canadians. We're going to show up when we need to show up.' That's what we do every Olympic year. We're always threatening for medals at the Olympics. We just have a different process in the quadrennial to get there."
Where they are this week is Whistler — the sliding venue for the 2010 Olympics, and a spot close to the hearts of the Canadian team as it continues to push towards February's 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"There definitely is added pressure here to perform," said Humphries, who also won gold at the first event of the season in Lake Placid, N.Y. "People are watching, everyone's filming, and I want to do well. Not only for myself, but for my country.
"I grew up driving this track. I love this track. It's one of my favourites. I'm excited to get racing and see what I can do on it."
The Calgary native, who won gold here at the 2010 Games and has topped the podium at Whistler's last two World Cup races, added that the team's chemistry as a whole is strong, which leads to moments like the one the Canadians enjoyed in Utah.
"It's comprised of a lot of different aspects," Humphries said when describing the mix of younger sliders and veterans. "We've really got to work together as a team to elevate. When we do that, we can have weeks like last week where the team as a whole is functioning and we can all be successful."
But Kripps, who was second and fourth in a pair of two-man races in Lake Placid, and wrapped up Park City eighth in a second four-man event last Saturday, said it's important to push aside last Friday's exciting results and move forward.
"Every week's a new race and a new track," the native of Summerland, B.C., said after a rainy practice session at the Whistler Sliding Centre. "It's great momentum coming into a race on our home track."
Despite his third-place finish in Park City, Spring has been disappointed with his overall showing early on this season. He was seventh and fifth in the two-man races in Lake Placid, and was fifth in Saturday's second four-man event in Park City.
"Even though it was great to get on the podium, I was quite frustrated with the way I performed," said Spring, who was born in Australia but now races for Canada and lives in Whistler. "It's great to be back home, though.
"I'm looking forward to the races."
Skeleton team also in medal hunt
Canada's skeleton athletes will also be hoping to challenge for medals on home soil.
Calgary's Elizabeth Vathje was second in Lake Placid, while Ottawa's Mirela Rahneva finished fourth in Park City.
Rahneva said that while the Canadians are comfortable racing on the 1,450-metre track, the sometimes volatile conditions in Whistler that can see snow to turn to rain and then back again in a short period of time makes things tricky.
"Whistler has a sniper, I like to think," she said with a laugh. "He sits in different corners every run and he can take you out at any point."
Still, the athletes are excited to compete in front of a home crowd for the only time this season, especially with the Olympics fast approaching.
"There's something special about being out in Whistler," said men's skeleton racer David Greszczyszyn of Brampton, Ont. "The atmosphere, the scenery, the mountains, the snow. It's just beautiful.
"It's one of the places we look forward to."