Canada's goal at the 2014 Olympic Games is to match or exceed our results from the Games in 2010, placing first overall for gold medals and third for total medals in Sochi, Russia. The sliding sports — bobsleigh, skeleton and luge — were responsible for four of Canada's medals, including two gold, and will have to make a sizeable contribution again in 2014 to boost the team's chances.
Judging from this past weekend at a World Cup bobsleigh and skeleton race in Whistler and at a luge World Cup in Austria, the team has the potential to do that and more. In Whistler, athletes won medals at four out of five races with some athletes making history and setting personal bests. In Austria, lugers won medals at two of three events, including a silver medal in the new team event.
Sarah Reid takes skeleton silver
Canada's Sarah Reid earned the silver Friday in the women's skeleton event at Whistler Sliding Centre on Nov. 23, the first competition of the weekend at the Viessman FIBT Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup.
Canada had a shot at a double or even a triple podium in the event. After the first run, Germany's Marion Thees was sitting first while the Canadians, Cassie Hawrysh, Reid and Mellisa Hollingsworth were second, third and fourth respectively.
But Thees wasn't giving up her lead without a fight and put down a fast second run to secure the gold medal with a time of 1:50.92. Reid finished her day in second place in 1:51.09, while Cassie Hawrysh made a mistake that bumped her back two spots to fourth in 1:51.19.
Mellisa Hollingsworth also made a mistake to move into fifth in 1:51.19, while Elizabeth Yarnold of Great Britain put down the fastest second run of the day to move up into third overall.
In skeleton, the top six are recognized on the podium with Canadian sliders filling out three of the six spots.
Reid had not been on the World Cup podium before this season and now has two silver medals in her first three races. She was very satisfied with her day.
"I'm really excited," she said. "Coming into the race I had a talk with my coaches after Salt Lake City, which wasn't a great race for me. I wanted to put pressure on myself this week, and set high goals for myself."
Hawrysh, a rookie who has already been in the top five twice, was disappointed to miss out on a podium, but said she's still learning from every race.
"I was steering too hard, to be honest," she said. "But it's been great (this season), a great learning experience. Each race has taught me some new lessons."
As for Mellisa Hollingsworth, who won on this course last year, she came into this week battling an illness and didn't do as well as she wanted to.
While she didn't want to blame her performance on her health, she says it was a factor. "Sliding is hard on your head as it is, much less having a massive head cold."
Rush second in two-man bobsleigh.
The men's two-man bobsleigh competition came down to just four one-hundredths of a second with pilot Lyndon Rush and brakeman Lascelles Brown placing second to the USA 1 sled of Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton. It was Canada's second medal of the day, but for Rush — who crashed in his last race at Lake Placid — it was the wrong colour.
When asked if he was happy about his run after crashing in his last race, Rush said: "Kind of. I'm pretty good at crashing and coming back strong, but to be honest I feel like it's gold or nothing here (in Whistler).
"I know I made a mistake in corner four, (Holcomb) put in a good run and just clipped me."
Rush's time was 1:45.30, while Holcomb clocked a 1:45.26; 0.03 seconds ahead after the first run then adding a 0.01 in the second. Third place went to Francesco Friedrich and Jannis Baecker in the Germany 3 sled.
As for the other Canadians, pilot Chris Springs made the top five for the first time in his career, placing fifth place with Jesse Lumsden pushing.
"It's pretty exciting and to do it at home is exciting as well," said Spring. "You know my background so you know I've had my fair share of tough times (in the sled) but the Canadian program is a credit to my driving ability."
Humphries keeps golden streak alive
Kaillie Humphries and teammate Chelsea Valois kept their gold medal streak alive at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Friday night, winning their third straight World Cup competition. With their three wins at the end of last season, including a win in the World Championship, they have now won six events in a row.
Whether she can keep the streak alive heading to Europe is another question, as she'll be racing on tracks that she doesn't know as well as her competitors.
"I really hope we can keep it going in Europe, but we know it's going to be really hard — but we'll do our best," said Humphries.
Humphries and Valois finished two runs of the course in 1:48.68, followed by the Switzerland 1 sled in 1:49.37 and the Germany 1 sled in 1:49.50. Canada's gap was almost 0.4 seconds after the first run.
The Canada 2 sled with pilot Jennifer Ciochetti and brakewoman Kate O'Brien were 12th
Chris Spring wins first World Cup bobsleigh medal
Driver Chris Spring laid down the best run of his career in the four-man bobsleigh on Saturday morning to take the bronze medal, bringing Canada's medal total for the weekend to four.
He knew his team was doing well, but wasn't expecting to be on the podium the next day in four-man.
"Waking up this morning I didn't want to expect anything or come in to today thinking we were going to do something amazing," he said. "I'm confident in my crew and myself, and I knew that if we raced well we'd have a good result."
The team — which includes Timothy Randall, Adam Rosenke and Ben Coakwell — were sitting fourth after the first run. While their second run was good with a faster start and first split, they owe their podium to the USA 1 team piloted by Steven Holcomb, who slipped from third to fourth after posting the eighth-fastest second run of the day. It was enough to put Spring and team in third by just six one-hundredths of a second.
The win went to the Russia 1 team, piloted by Alexander Zubkov, which has won every four-man race this year. The Russia 2 team piloted by Alexander Kasjanov picked up the silver medal as well — a testament to Russia's drive to be on top at home during the 2014 Winter Olympics, as well as the coaching of Canada's Pierre Lueders, who was hired by Russia to train its athletes.
Canadian pilot Lyndon Rush, racing with Lascelles Brown, Jesse Lumsden and Neville Wright, placed eighth on the day while Justin Kripps with Jean-Nicolas Carriere, Luke Demetre and Cody Sorensen were 13th.
Eric Neilson leads skeleton team
Home ice didn't have the affect that the men's skeleton team had hoped on Saturday afternoon, but the day had its highlights all the same.
Eric Neilson finished fifth overall, tying his best result to date in World Cup competition. Teammate John Fairbairn was a solid eighth, while Olympic champion Jon Montgomery continues to struggle after taking last season off to train and work on his sled. Montgomery placed 12th, clearly unhappy with his run.
Montgomery, who has been playing with different sled designs but decided to race on the same sled he won the Olympics on. He felt like he was fast with starts that were among the fastest of the day, and was at a loss why his time wasn't better.
He said he would try to learn from the race. "There's not a lot that's positive to be had from today, but when I get home I'll watch the video and try to reflect on it and try to make the positives out of it," he said.
"If you focus on the negative you're only going to dig yourself into a deeper hole."
For Neilson's part, he also hoped to slide better. "I feel okay," he said. "I know I could have been a little better, but I'll take that (fifth) every day. But the difference when I look at fourth is a pretty big gap."
There was an upset on the podium as Germany slider Frank Rommel upset the Latvian Dukurs brothers, Martins and Tomass, bumping them to second and third in the rankings. Martins has now won eight of the last nine races.
The track did get noticeably slower in the evening as the temperature dropped and frost started to form on the track.
Luge athletes net two in Austria
Calgary luger Alex Gough started her World Cup season at Igls, Austria on a positive note, winning a bronze medal. She actually set a track record on her first run, but that was beaten by German's Anke Wischnewski a little later. Natalie Geisenberger of Germany placed second, while German sliders also placed fourth and fifth behind Gough.
"I worked very hard this summer to bring the focus back to myself and away from things that I can't control because I do believe I perform better if that's where my focus is," said Gough. "I think last season I started weighing myself down with expectations, but I know if I pull fast starts and have clean runs I can be right there, and I was able to do that today."
Arianne Jones placed eighth for Canada, while Kim McRae placed 13th.
In men's doubles, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith placed seventh — their best result yet on a European track.
In men's luge, Sam Edney was the top Canadian in 15th.
The final event was the team relay; an event where each nation enters a female, male and doubles teams, and the athlete up top has to wait for their teammate to trigger the start gate. Canada was on the podium twice last season in the event, and placed second overall at Igls.
"It's nice to show we still have it in the first race of the year," said Edney.
"But there remains a gap between us and the Germans and we need to focus on closing that. When we broke into the medals a few years ago we were a young team with potential. We have all matured to the point where we know what we want to achieve and can achieve."
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