With a pair of two-man bobsleigh races as part of the BMW IBSF World Cup stop at Whistler Sliding Centre on Jan. 22 and 23, competitors got an rare opportunity for a second crack at a track in as many days.
Time and speed records fell on the second day of racing but hopes of ending up in the record books for Canadian Chris Spring fell just short.
At the end of the day, however, he and brakeman Lascelles Brown ended up with what ultimately mattered: the gold medal around their necks. It was the first-ever World Cup gold for Spring, who won bronzes twice previously, once in four-man and once in two-man.
"It's been a long time," Spring said. "I'm one of the best drivers here in the world and if we have the start, which we did, it's pretty easy to have the confidence going into a race knowing that I can win a race. We showed that today."
The Spring sled sat second after the first run as Russia's Alexander Kasjanov set a new track record with a 51.31-second effort that left the Canadians 0.04 seconds off the pace. German pilot Thomas Florschutz held the previous record with a run of 51.57 seconds during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
"I was really hoping I could grab that track record because that's something that stays with you for a long time," Spring said.
Over the two days of action, Kasjanov had a tendency to overcome slow starts with breathtaking finishes. However, despite a better start in his second run, he and brakeman Aleksei Pushkarev soon faltered and slipped back to take bronze. Latvia's Ugis Zalims and Intars Dambis rose from fifth to second to hit the podium.
Spring, an Australian-born athlete who received Canadian citizenship two years ago, saw the Russians struggle early in the second run but refused to count them out until quite late.
"They made a mistake at the top in the load and you never want to wish anything ill upon anyone. I knew at the bottom that they were going to be coming back," Spring said. "Their three-tenths (of a second deficit) was a lot about halfway down.
"Lascelles was giving me high fives and I'm like 'Whoa, easy buddy! It's not over yet.' Somewhere around Thunderbird (turn 16) I knew we had it. The celebration started early."
The gold was extra special for Spring, who very nearly went without. When competing in the four-man event in Altenberg, Germany in 2012, he was in a debilitating crash that hospitalized him and two others and left him unsure as to whether he would compete again.
After the first run, the Canadians were in position to put a pair of teams on the podium as Justin Kripps was running third and briefly held the new track record with his first run of 51.39 seconds, though he and brakeman Alex Kopacz were the first sled down. A couple small mistakes in their second run bumped the duo to fifth, though Kripps was ultimately satisfied with the result. He came into action with a previous best finish of 12th in Whistler.
"Whistler has always been a bit of a love-hate for me. Sometimes I'm good here, sometimes I'm crashing, sometimes I'm slow, so overall, it was a good weekend," said Summerland's Kripps, who placed eighth on Friday night.
Koreans post emotional win
The South Korean bobsleigh duo of Yunjong Won and Youngwoo Seo was racing with heavy hearts on Friday.
Their coach, Malcolm "Gomer" Lloyd, passed away earlier this month after falling ill while on a cruise. They paid tribute days after his death with a third-place finish in Lake Placid, N.Y., but did a couple spots better here in Whistler, posting their first-ever World Cup win in a thrilling tie with the Swiss sled of Rico Peter and Thomas Amrhein. Both sleds posted a combined time of one minute, 43.41 seconds (1:43.41).
They did it with Lloyd's widow Jeannie Godfrey in attendance, and she stepped up on the podium with them to celebrate.
"It was a very special win. It's the first time I've seen them since my husband passed away," Godfrey said. "He knew that they had it in them and tonight, they proved that.
"It took a little bit of my grief away."
Lloyd, a four-time Olympian, went into coaching after his retirement, including instructing Canada's women.
The Swiss team, meanwhile, posted its first podium of the season in a big way, and with Amrhein interpreting, Peter said he knew he still had a chance at the top after sitting fourth, nine hundredths of a second back, after the first run.
"It's not clear after the first run. The finish is always after the second," Peter said through Amrhein. "We were right close and knew we could do something."
The Kasjanov sled, which was leading Won and Seo by two hundredths of a second heading into the second run, slipped ever so slightly, finishing a hundredth of a second behind the pair. Spring's sled jumped into a fifth-place tie while Kripps placed eighth.
On the weekend, Won took over first place in the overall World Cup standings. Kripps sits fifth in the standings while Spring leapt to 11th.
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