An "all-star" crew and a new sled have bobsled pilot Lyndon Rush feeling bullish about the upcoming season.
His two-man sled is already among the best in the world, and Canada's No. 1 driver wants his four-man team in position for the podium at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"Coming into Sochi, we want to be a contender in both," Rush said Tuesday from Montreal where this year's national bobsled team was unveiled.
Rush, from Humboldt, Sask., feels he has powerhouse personnel, with Olympic medallist Lascelles Brown returning to Canada, Jesse Lumsden strong and healthy and veteran pushers Neville Wright and Cody Sorensen on his crew.
"I've never had anything like this before," Rush said. "It's almost like an all-star team.
"I'm really focused on the four-man this year. We struggled in four-man last year. I think this is the year when we need to bring that up."
Rush drove Canada to Olympic bronze in Whistler, B.C. in 2010, but was seventh in four-man at January's world championship in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Rush and company will put their new Eurotech sled up against international competition for the first time at the season-opening World Cup in Lake Placid next week.
The lone Canadian stop this season is Nov. 19-24 at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
The four-man sled cost over $100,000 to build from scratch, according to head coach Tom De La Hunty. Own The Podium paid for the sled's development and will provide $1.4 million in funding overall to the 20-athlete bobsled team in 2012-13.
De La Hunty says Rush's four-man model has superior aerodynamics, with high sides covering more of the athletes' shoulders.
"Lyndon was really operating on inferior equipment most of last season," De La Hunty said. "He's very confident in the new four-man and confidence in your equipment of course, breeds confidence in your driving."
Brown returns to the Canadian team after two seasons sliding for Monaco. He won an Olympic silver medal pushing Pierre Lueders in two-man in 2006, followed by bronze with Rush in 2010.
"What it does is it brings a world-class athlete back onto the team and puts pressure on the others and there's nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned," De La Hunty said.
Rush and Lumsden took silver in two-man at this year's world championships, even though Lumsden played catch-up with his conditioning all season following knee surgery.
Lumsden, a former CFL running back from Edmonton, and Brown took turns breaking push records at the Ice House in Calgary last month.
They'll vie to be in Rush's two-man sled at World Cups and are also in his four-man rotation alongside Edmonton's Wright and Ottawa's Sorensen.
Canada has hit a sweet spot in depth of male talent, with all three sleds racing World Cups this winter expected to post top results. Calgary's Chris Spring is at the helm of Canada 2 and Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C., will pilot Canada 3.
The internal competition among the men to both keep their jobs and earn promotion to a higher-ranked crew can help push Canada up the world rankings in four-man.
"We want to be top three to five in every race," De La Hunty said. "I've got very high expectations of Spring and Kripps of being very close to Lyndon.
"Our target has got to be to win the world championships, that's for sure."
Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries of Calgary will drive one of two women's sleds. She's auditioning Emily Baadsvik of St., Stephen, N.B., and newcomer Chelsea Valois of Zenon Park, Sask., on the brake.
"Ideally you want two amazing girls and as hard as it is for the brakemen to be in that position, I think it pushes them to consistently get better and faster," Humphries said.
"As a pilot it's always good because if something happens to one with an injury, you've got another that's as equally good."
Edmonton's Jenny Ciochetti pushed Humphries to gold at the world championship, but is getting her chance to drive this winter.
Calgary's Kate O'Brien and Christine Bushie of Spruce Grove, Alta., will take turns on Ciochetti's brake.
Spring's crew includes Tim Randall of Burlington, Ont., Adam Rosenke of Edmonton and Ben Coakwell of Moose Jaw, Sask.
Jean-Nicolas Carriere of Rockland, Ont., Graeme Rinholm of Medicine Hat, Alta., Luke Demetre of New Glasgow N.S., and James McNaughton of Newmarket, Ont., join Kripps in Canada 3.
The bobsled athletes handed out the 2012 version of the red mittens, popularized in 2010, at Montreal Children's Hospital before heading across the border Tuesday to Lake Placid.
The red mittens sell for $10 a pair with $3 going to the Canadian Olympic Committee. The COC uses the funds to prepare athletes for the Olympic Games and Pan American Games, and look after their needs on site.
The world championships Jan. 21 to Feb. 3 in St. Moritz, Switzerland and the season-ending World Cup in Sochi are important races for the Canadian team.
"The world championships is kind of the be-all and end-all for this year," Humphries said. "Russia is extremely important this year.
"We'll have two weeks there of international training and it'll be the only two weeks we have on that track to see it, be around it and race on it before the Olympic Games."