Justin Kripps claimed an Olympic gold medal back in February, winning the two-man bobsleigh event in PyeongChang, South Korea.
But even with the 2022 Games in Beijing a lengthy quadrennial away, the 31-year-old pilot still has plenty of motivation leading into the 2018-19 season.
Next spring, the Whistler Sliding Centre will host the IBSF World Championships, so last week's North American Cup races had greater flurries of activity than in previous years as athletes looked to maximize their number of reps at the track.
At the event, which ran from Nov. 7 to 10, Kripps and brakeman Ben Coakwell won a pair of two-man races before taking back-to-back four-man wins with Coakwell, Ryan Sommer and Cam Stones to complete a sweep.
While it was gratifying to win four times, especially with other Canadian Olympic pilots Chris Spring and Nick Poloniato lining up to compete, all of it was done with an eye to excelling in March.
"We're trying to focus the year on that and that's why we're doing the schedule we are, trying to get more runs here and testing equipment," he said. "Obviously, the big goal is to win at home here and I'm excited to slide here as much as I can."
Admittedly, in most years, the big names wouldn't be out at North American Cup races, as it's more of a developmental circuit. However, track time is track time no matter the level, and Kripps said everyone involved took it seriously.
"There's that bit of an Olympic hangover, especially having the success you did winning the gold medal to starting the year on the (North) American Cup," he said. "It's different, but at the same time, it's a lot of fun to get back racing and the guys bring the same amount of hype to the (North) American Cup as they would to the Olympic Games."
Kripps said his equipment was working well, as he recorded a new personal best top speed during training recently, notching a 153.7 km/h speed.
While there was some uncertainty with Kripps' crew coming out of the Games, he has competed with Coakwell and Stones before, while Sommer was a new addition.
"There were a lot of retirements after the Games, so I wasn't sure who would be coming back to be on my crew, but we've got a great group of guys, having Cam come back and then we've got Ryan Sommer, who moved up the ranks," he said after the four-man win on Nov. 9. "It's a great way to start the season. The team's looking good and we're excited to keep it going."
Other Canadian pilots also hit the podium, as Poloniato (with Stones) and Spring (with Sommer) took second and third in the two-man on Nov. 7, Taylor Austin (with William Auclair) was third on Nov. 8. In the four-man, Spring, Auclair, Darren Lundrigan and Teodor Kostelnik took second on Nov. 10.
On the women's side, Canadian Julie Johnson picked up a win with Cynthia Serwaah on Nov. 7, besting veteran American pilot Elana Meyers Taylor, who took second, and another American, Brittany Reinbolt in third.
The following day, Meyers Taylor and Johnson flipped, with American Nicole Vogt in third. Canada's Christine de Bruin finished fourth on both days with different brakewomen.
Like Kripps, Johnson was looking beyond the North American Cup, but still took confidence in besting a regular World Cup medallist.
"I'm more excited because this is where World Champs is going to be at the end of the season in March," she said. "There are people here training just to get in runs before World Champs. We have a lot of different nations who might not normally be here. The U.S. is normally here, but they're coming with the same intentions that we came with, of 'All right, let's see who's going to do this in March, who's going to put down the best runs and figure things out.'
"Being neck and neck with (Meyers Taylor) was pretty awesome."
For Johnson, it's been an offseason of change as she has a new coach, who paired her with Serwaah for these races. While she's not sure if that partnership will last going forward, she was pleased with the early results.
"We were just trying to have consistent starts and trying to make sure we didn't falter, because we don't have a ton of experience together," she said. "Cynthia is a great athlete, so I wasn't too worried."
In the skeleton events, China's Wengqiang Geng and Russia's Yulia Kanakina won the men's and women's races, respectively, on Nov. 7. On Nov. 8, Ukraine's Vladyslav Heraskevych and American Kendall Wesenberg won the men's and women's events, respectively. Canadian Lanette Prediger took third in the women's race on both days.
Full results are available online at www.ibsf.org.