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Skeleton athletes unable to keep streak alive

Eric Neilson leads team in fifth; Canada four-for-five at Whistler bobsleigh and skeleton World Cup



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."

Heading to Europe, he said he'd likely opt for a new Calgary-made designs from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) that his teammates are finding success with.

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."

Neilson also gave high marks to the track crew at Whistler Sliding Centre, which managed to repair the track in the few hours between the four-man bobsleigh competition and men's skeleton. "They did a really great job," said Neilson.

Fairbairn shared his praise. "The guys here love it, and I think they're the best in the world.

As for his own result, Fairbairn was hoping for more.

"The result is good, but I'm disappointed with my race. I didn't have a very good first run, I made a big mistake on (corner) two," he said. "My goal here was top six for the Olympic qualifier, and I missed it by two-tenths (of a second). Still, I've got six more races to try and get it down.

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.

Chris Sping wins first World Cup bobsleigh

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.

On Friday, Nov. 23 Canadians took silver medals in women's skeleton (Sarah Reid) and in men's two-man bobsleigh (Lyndon Rush and Lascelles Brown) and gold in women's bobsleigh (Kaillie Humphries and Chelsea Valois).

Spring earned his first top five result on Friday in two-man, finishing fifth with the help of Jesse Lumsden. 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 if we raced well I knew we'd have a good result."

The team - which includes Timothy Randall, Adam Rosenke and Ben Coakwell - were sitting fourth after the first run. All of the second runs were slightly slower with the track warming up and some deep ruts that were the result of two crashes at the start of the second runs.

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 went 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 a narrow six one-hundredths of a second.

The win went to the Russia 1 team, piloted by Alexander Zubkov. 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.

For Rush, who's still breaking in a new sled, it was a disappointing day.

"It's pretty similar to how we've felt so far at every four-man race," he said. "We've discovered that we still have some work to do, and every week we keep working on it, and convince ourselves that this is going to be the week we break through."

Rush said he was scared of his new Eurotech sled when he started out with it, but now he says it handles really well. The problem, he says, is getting it to go fast, and they'll work with Eurotech on the next leg of the World Cup tour to make a few adjustments.

However, Rush's goal was to win the push as a team, and on both runs they were third-fastest off the line.

Humphries keeps golden streak alive

Kaillie Humphries and teammate Chelsea Valois kept their streak alive at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Friday night, winning their third straight gold medal in 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 athletes on track 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, which is a nearly insurmountable gap in a sport that can be decided by hundredths of seconds.

"I'm not that surprised," said Humphries. "I know I had the same gap, if not more, at the Olympics. But I don't really focus on time, I focus on having good clean runs and fast runs."

Humphries shared the credit for the win with pusher Chelsea Valois, who is in her rookie season on the World Cup tour.

"I didn't know what to expect in this sport," said Valois, who comes from a track and field background. "I knew making Kaillie's team that I'd have a chance at success.

The Canada 2 sled with pilot Jennifer Ciochetti and brakewoman Kate O'Brien were 12th

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 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.”

There was a bit of controversy with the team’s coaches swapping out pushers and borrowing from Rush’s four-man team, which is racing on Saturday. He was concerned that his team might be tired Saturday going up against Holcomb, who week after week is laying down some of the fastest starts in two-man and four-man.

Lascelles Brown, who returned to Canada this year after two seasons with Monaco, was making his first return to the podium since rejoining the national program. “It was what it was,” he said. “Finishing second is a fantastic job. Lyndon is a fantastic driver and we have a good sled.”

For Holcomb, who has won all three North American World Cup events this season, his starts were crucial.

“Our first start was fantastic but I made a few little mistakes in the lower part of the course that I knew I had to clean up on the second run if I wanted to stay ahead of Rush,” he said.

“We managed to step it up in the second run and have an even better start. From what I hear I was behind at one point, so it was a real nail-biter, which is great racing. That shows how tough the competition is, these guys are the best in the world and you have to be on your game to come out on top.”

Rush’s time was 1:45.30, while Holcomb clocked a 1:45.26; 0.03 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 in fifth place with Jesse Lumsden pushing.

“It’s pretty exciting and to do it at home is exciting as well,” he said. “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.”

For Lumsden, it didn’t matter who he was pushing for. “We’re all team Canada. I’m happy was racing today and helped Chris reach the top five, I really want to push him for a medal, I really did.”

Reid takes skeleton silver