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Canadian bobsleigh athletes shine with two golds

Spring, Humphries pilot sleds to victory at Whistler Sliding Centre

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Precious medals were in high supply for Canadian athletes at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Nov. 24.

Canadian bobsleigh teams took home half of the six medals up for grabs that day, with Chris Spring and Justin Kripps piloting sleds to gold and silver in the two-man and Kaillie Humphries staying invincible in B.C., capturing her fifth consecutive win at the track.

In the two-man event, the 33-year-old Spring and brakeman Neville Wright — taking his first win — came through in the final curves of their second run to edge fellow Canadians Kripps and Alex Kopacz by just 0.02 seconds. Latvians Oskars Melbardis and Daumants Dreiskins took third, 0.09 seconds off the pace.

"I don't get the win very often, so it's nice to get one," Spring chuckled.

Spring built up a 0.16-second lead on the Latvians and a 0.18-second advantage on Kripps and the Swiss sled of Rico Peter and Simon Friedli after the first run, which proved to be enough of a cushion to snag the victory. His first was also here at his home track in January 2016.

"I never expect to win. I expect to perform well and then the result is what it is. I knew coming out here — it's always a tight race, especially with Justin and Nick pushing and driving very well, I knew it was going to be difficult to come away with a win, but we executed today," Spring said. "I just wanted to put down runs that I was proud of and I feel like I did that today and that's what we need to continue to do in the future."

Though Spring was trailing Kripps' pace as his second run neared to a close, he maximized his speed in the final corners to eke out the win. However, he stressed that a hot start was the key to victory, especially on the Whistler track, and he was well aware his runs were going as planned.

"I know when I'm having a good run and I felt like I was hitting the lines I wanted to hit. I didn't realize how close it was, and actually when I crossed the finish line and saw we won, I was pretty excited we got this one. I looked up and we were only two-hundredths in front," Spring said.

Kripps, meanwhile, had a couple moments in each of his runs that he'll look back on and wonder what could have been, including jumping out of the rut in his entrance in the first heat, but he was happy overall with how the day played out.

Hardware has been frustratingly elusive for Kripps in Whistler, as he'd previously posted four top-five finishes here without taking any medals home.

"We got our first medal in Whistler and it's awesome. We could've won the race, but we made some mistakes and still managed to get the silver medal. I'm glad a Canadian won, Spring did an awesome job today."

As the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea draw near, the two pilots find themselves sitting pretty early in the season, with Kripps leading the overall World Cup standings with Spring right behind him.

The third Canadian sled of Nick Poloniato and Lascelles Brown tied for seventh.

Humphries, Lotholz score dominant victory

Kaillie Humphries pulling out a win in Whistler has become almost a given.

The 32-year-old won her fifth consecutive BMW IBSF World Cup race at the local track and she hasn't won anything but gold here since November 2010.

Humphries and brakewoman Melissa Lotholz easily put down the best time in both heats en route to besting a pair of American squads, Jamie Gruebel Poser and Aja Evans (by 0.48 seconds) and Elana Meyers Taylor and Kehri Jones (by 0.83 seconds).

Humphries, who won Olympic gold here in Whistler in 2010 and defended her title in Russia in 2014, knows the track better than anyone and that was abundantly clear on Friday.

As Humphries prepares to try to be the first pilot to earn three medals in a row in PyeongChang, South Korea this February, she and Lotholz are looking to perfect their runs. Whistler provided the perfect opportunity.

"For us, we were focused on the starts and the driving. I wanted to ensure that I drove the track the best way I knew how for the conditions that there were," she said. "It's just (adjusting) the steering and the handling for how the ice is. I wanted to make sure that each and every run was done to the best of my ability."

With rainy weather throughout straining and on race day, Humphries explained it was difficult to get ideal ice, but she praised the WSC track crew for creating equitable conditions for all competitors.

Humphries noted that with her history in Whistler, there is more pressure to perform here. She's been able to handle it well, and this could help steel her as she seeks a third-consecutive Olympic gold.

"I try not to think about it," she said with a laugh. "It's hard, don't get me wrong. I do think about it. I don't devalue it by any means by trying to ignore it.

"There's a lot of steps between now and then."

Since the race was earlier in the season than normal, sliders were dealing with slightly warmer conditions, which provided a challenge, according to American pilot Gruebel Poser.

"I wanted to have a little better run today but we haven't really raced here under such warm conditions and soft ice," he said.

"It was a little bit of a new experience for me but I gave my best and coming out second is great."

Russians rebound in four-man

After a trying week for Russia's bobsleigh and skeleton program, the country's athletes got something to cheer for at the BMW IBSF World Cup at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Alexander Kasjanov piloted a sled of Ilver Khuzin, Vasiliy Kondratenko and Aleksei Pushkarev to victory on Nov. 25, just days after two Russian bobsledders, including double gold medallist Alexander Zubkov, were banned for life by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for doping at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. As well, four Russian skeleton athletes named in the IOC's Oswald Commission were provisionally suspended by the IBSF. The athletes have a right to a hearing.

Kasjanov and his team bested Great Britain's Lamin Deen, Ben Simons, Toby Olubi and Andrew Matthews. In their first run, the Britons smashed the track record previously set by the late American pilot Steven Holcomb by 0.2 seconds, but the Russians were only 0.02 seconds back and quickly passed Team Deen when it struggled in its second run.

Still, Deen said taking second for his first-ever World Cup medal was a sweet feeling.

"We're fantastic. It's the best result ever for us," he said. "We've got the speed record. That's going to stay for a while, no one's going to beat that," Deen added with a laugh.

Deen credited his teammates and said they executed well for the most part, aside from a couple mistakes in the second heat.

British team members are thrilled with their bounce-back season after a tough year on the ice in 2016-17. It was also a tumultuous off-season that saw a new coach, Lee Johnston, brought in. Shortly after his hiring, Johnston was accused of having made racist comments to team members in 2013, but after Saturday's win, the squad credited Johnston for its success.

The German sled of Nico Walther, Kevin Kuske, Kevin Korona and Eric Franke was third, nicking the Canadian sled of Kripps, Kopacz, Jesse Lumsden and Oluseyi Smith from the podium.

"We were hoping to do a little better. We were seeded pretty well," said Kripps. "We just couldn't find the speed down the track.

"We still got a pretty good result without having that speed, but we've got to take a little look at our equipment setup and look at regrouping for the next race."

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