On paper, Nov. 29 was a successful opening day of IBSF North American Cup (NAC) action for Team Canada, with four sleds hitting the podium.
Melissa Lotholz (1:52.02) and Erica Voss (1:52.31) went one-two in women's monobob ahead of Slovakian Victoria Cernanska (1:52.37).
Carter Malyk and Sam Cuciz (1:46.57) won gold in two-man, besting silver medallists Jinsu Kim and Sunwook Kim (1:48.20) from Korea. That left fellow Canadians Taylor Austin and Shane Ort (1:48.53) in bronze medal position.
What the time sheets don't show, however, are the multitude of crashes that made for a carnage-filled afternoon at the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC). Track operations manager Robb Zirnhelt figures there were eight in all: six two-man sleds, one monobob and one forerunner. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt.
Room for improvement
Lotholz didn't feel like she put her best foot forward, but she still did enough to hold off eight other athletes in victory. The Barrhead, Alta. native recently returned to Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) after taking time away to complete her undergraduate degree, and will likely transition to the World Cup circuit in 2024 after taking valuable NAC reps.
"Coming back [to Whistler] is intimidating," Lotholz admitted. "Knowing I took a year off, there was a part of me that's like 'yeah, could we start somewhere easier, not as fast?' But at the end of the day, learning on this track forces you to be good."
Voss, meanwhile, appreciates what the relatively new discipline of monobob can do for her and other young pilots.
"First off, they're a great learning tool for new pilots," said the Calgarian. "I'm just going into my second season driving, and [monobob] is a lot safer. They're actually a little bit trickier to drive, so they're really good for developing driving skill. In terms of competition, it's good to see the women's pilots one-on-one."
It is said that crashes can be contagious, and that definitely appeared to be the case on Wednesday among men with six teams overturning in the first of two heats. Due credit goes to Malyk and Cuciz for remaining upright, putting down clean runs to elevate themselves above the rest.
For their part, Austin and Ort managed to hold onto enough speed at the end of an ill-fated first trip to remain in the medal hunt.
"I've had to bring in a lot of new people and coach them, so doing that over a lot of years has really helped me refine my processes and make it as simple as possible for these guys coming in [like Shane]," Austin said. "When you're standing at the top of Whistler, the track's blazing fast and they're going to be as nervous as they will be. I try to make it uplifting. Not safe, because it is still bobsled, but as fun as possible."
A second round of monobob and two-man bobsled action goes down today at 3 p.m. Check out full results at the IBSF website.