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Team Canada captures four-man bobsleigh bronze in Whistler

Vancouver Islander Cyrus Gray placed third with Taylor Austin, Davidson de Souza and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
L to R: Team Canada bobsledders Davidson de Souza, Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, Cyrus Gray and Taylor Austin celebrate their bronze-medal win at the IBSF World Cup in Whistler on Nov. 26.

Five years ago, Cyrus Gray wasn’t sure he had a future in high-level sport after his college basketball dreams ground to a halt. Today, the Duncan, B.C. native can call himself a World Cup bronze medallist—just not in the sport he grew up playing.

Gray helped fellow brakemen Davidson de Souza and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence power their pilot, Taylor Austin, to third place on Nov. 26 at the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Cup season opener. Notching a combined time of 1:42.37, they became the fourth Canadian quartet ever to win a bobsleigh World Cup medal at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Last Saturday’s bronze is also the first World Cup medal that Gray and his teammates have ever achieved, and they’re over the moon.

“Man, it was great,” said Gray, who celebrated his 28th birthday just one day after the victory. “I had three hours of sleep [the night before the race], you know. Nerves got to me a little bit, but I’m happy to see that we pulled out the bronze. Our boy Taylor drives this track real well.”

Austin, 32, lit up the Whistler venue to open the four-man competition. He and his brakemen threw down an opening run of 51.09 seconds, fast enough for second place after the first of two heats. Their second run was only marginally slower at 51.28 seconds, but two-time Olympian Brad Hall of Great Britain managed to leapfrog the Canadians for silver, with a total time of 1:41.98.

No bobsleigh fan was surprised to see perennial German powerhouse Francesco Friedrich come out on top yet again. Two sub- 51-second runs gave him a clocking of 1:41.56 and his 42nd career World Cup win in four- man bobsleigh. Friedrich has been the ultimate standard in his sport for over a decade, with four Olympic and seven World Championship golds to go with 104 total World Cup medals.

The 32-year-old prodigy hasn’t raced in Whistler in three years, but he respects and appreciates the venue. “It’s a beautiful track,” he said. “Amazing speed here and the corners are [not as easy] as they look.”

Team Canada proved its mettle by besting several veteran sleds, including Michael Vogt of Switzerland (who finished fourth), Markus Treichl of Austria (fifth) and Germany’s Johannes Lochner (sixth). The third German sled, driven by Christoph Hafer, had brake trouble and skidded off the end of the track into a parking lot after its first run. Hafer, the defending Olympic bronze medallist, was forced to withdraw with his sled damaged beyond hope of timely repair.

Austin’s first career medal guarantees him a spot on the Canadian national bobsleigh team. The minor mistakes he made on his second run aren’t lost on him, but the Calgarian is proud of what he, Gray, de Souza and Murray-Lawrence have achieved.

“I could just tell these guys were focused, they were ready to go, they were ready to lay it all on the line,” Austin said of his brakemen. “They just trusted themselves and did what they needed to do, pushing and loading...and they just put their trust in me to get us down as fast as possible.

“I’m a firm believer that there’s no perfect run [in bobsleigh], so as long as we can get as close to that as possible, and just keep getting better as well, you can’t really ask for more than that.”

For Gray, who grew up on Vancouver Island, Whistler is essentially home soil. Winning a world-class medal on home turf is always sweet, but even sweeter was the fact that Gray’s family was in attendance to cheer him on. He strives to follow in the footsteps of accomplished Canadian brakemen like Ryan Sommer, Cam Stones and Benjamin Coakwell, who pushed Justin Kripps to Olympic bronze this February in Beijing.

“As a Canadian, it means so much wearing that leaf and having the respect of other nations,” Gray said, beaming with pride in the finish area after his race. “Not a lot of people get to do this, and I’m very, very fortunate. The love of my family and friends, of course my teammates, it means so much.”

Other notable Canadian results in Whistler include Bianca Ribi and Cynthia Appiah winning landmark gold and silver respectively in monobob, Austin and Murray-Lawrence’s sixth- place finish in two-man bobsleigh, and Blake Enzie’s career-best sixth place in men’s skeleton.

Find full results from the Whistler World Cup and the rest of the IBSF season here