Road To The Olympic Games

Humphries, Vathje headline historic bobsleigh, skeleton teams

Canada is sending its largest-ever contingent of sliders to the Olympics, having secured three sleds each in the men's two and four-man bobsleigh events and the women's two-man event, plus six skeleton berths.

Canada sends its largest-ever contingent of sliders to Olympics

Elisabeth Vathje, left, and Kaillie Humphries will lead Canada's largest-ever contingent of sliders at the Winter Olympics. (Canadian Press)

Canada is sending its largest-ever contingent of sliders to the Olympics, having secured three sleds each in the men's two and four-man events and the women's two-man event, plus six skeleton berths (three women and three men).

Germany is the only other nation to have sent the max quota of sliders.

Kaillie Humphries, fresh off her fourth overall World Cup title, is looking to earn her third-consecutive Olympic gold medal. Two-time Olympic hurdler Phylicia George and Melissa Lotholz alternated as her brakemen this season.

Defending an Olympic gold medal is a rare accomplishment, but what does it take to become a three-time champion? 24:29

Heather Moyse, who won back-to-back golds with Humphries, came out of retirement in September to push with pilot Alysia Rissling, who finished fifth in the overall World Cup standings.

Rounding out the women's squad is Christine de Bruin, making her Olympic debut after qualifying Canada's final sled.

Cynthiah Appiah of North York, Ont. and Kristen Bujnowski of Mount Brydges, Ont., were named alternates.

Kripps headlines men's bobsleigh crew

Men's pilot Justin Kripps won his first overall World Cup title last week with brakemen Alexander Kopacz and Jesse Lumsden pushing him this season. Kripps also finished one point shy of bronze in the four-man World Cup circuit.

"I'm extremely proud to be representing Canada in my third Olympics," said Kripps. "It's exciting to be heading into Pyeongchang with a lot of momentum from an amazing World Cup season with what is probably the deepest Canadian team ever."

Kripps finished first in the overall IBSF World Cup standings, earning a Crystal Globe in Königssee, Germany. 1:44

Christopher Spring enters his third Olympics as a pilot and finished third in the overall World Cup two-man standings.

The remaining team members:

  • Lascelles Brown, Calgary
  • Neville Wright, Edmonton
  • Bryan Barnett, Edmonton
  • Ben Coakwell, Moose Jaw, Sask.
  • Cam Stones, Whitby, Ont.
  • Josh Kirkpatrick, London, Ont.

CFL receiver Sam Giguere (Sherbrooke, Que.) and Joey Nemet (Hamilton, Ont.) were named alternates for the men's sleds.

Vathje leads skeleton squad

The skeleton squad is comprised of six first-time Olympians.

Elisabeth Vathje was Canada's top skeleton athlete this season, earning her first Crystal Globe with a third-place finish in the overall World Cup standings. This marked the third year in a row that a Canadian woman finished third overall on the skeleton circuit, with Mirela Rahneva and Jane Channell previously achieving the feat.

The 23-year-old Calgarian finished third overall in the IBSF World Cup skeleton standings. 1:41

"At the beginning of the year we created a team charter where our goal was to qualify three sleds on both the men's and women's side. We have all worked so hard individually, but even moreso as a team, and together we achieved our goal," said Channell.

"I can't think of anything better than to have the opportunity to walk into the stadium with my five other rookie Olympic teammates beside me."

Dave Greszczyszyn leads a trio of first-time Olympians on the men's team. The 38-year-old captured his first World Cup podium earlier this season. 

Barrett Martineau of Calgary and Kevin Boyer of Sherwood Park, Alta., are the remaining members.

Designed for speed

While Canada's bobsleds and skeleton sleds might not break the sound barrier in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a new design makes them appear like they could. They bear the Canada 150 paint scheme of the Royal Canadian Air Force's CF-18 demonstration Hornet.

"My first thought was 'oh man, our sled tech has to put on these giant stickers now. That's going to be a pain in the butt for him' but I think the design is really cool," Humphries told The Canadian Press.

"An all red-and-white sled, this is probably the most Canadian sled we've ever had at any of the games." The look of their sleds is influenced by the wings of the CF-18, which has a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, according to a man who flies them.

"It's pretty cool for me because I've been a long-time fan of the Olympics," Major Phil Meikle said. "I've followed bobsled, had a couple of friends who have been part of the bobsled team over the last 10 or 15 years.

"I'm a big fan of the design they did for that demo jet last year, so it will be very interesting."

The sliding team has spent time with the Armed Forces at CFB Wainwright to mentally prepare for competition, including a two-day overnight training operation in 2016.

"With the military, we've gotten really close over the last four years," Humphries said. "There are a lot of similarities. You can really see that represented on our sleds this year.

"I don't think it's important for the sled to make a statement, but I think it's important we really feel Canadian, that we feel strong and empowered in who we are as athletes. I think this sled design definitely does that."

Toronto graphic arts student Josh Dornan incorporated the style of the Hornet honouring Canada's 150th birthday in 2017 into Olympic sleds.

"Obviously last year being Canada's 150th, this jet has spent a lot of time in the sky across the country and so we wanted to capture what it felt like when this massive, powerful machine came across the sky and you can see our flag on it," Dornan explained.

"It's a really crazy moment when you see this thing, so how do we translate that onto sleds we bring to Korea and have our athletes race down and have that same impact?"

The Canada 150 jet was graphic designer Jim Belliveau's last project as a civil servant for the RCAF before his retirement.

"There's going to be millions of eyes on that sled, millions of eyes on our athletes," Belliveau said. "That means so much to me. I want to see that thing come back home loaded with gold."

With files from The Canadian Press

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