—Melissa Lotholz, Genevieve Thibault, Cynthia Appiah Push Kaillie Humphries sled into history books, first all-women’s World Cup crew—
LAKE PLACID, N.Y.—On a memorable Saturday where his teammates were making history as the first all-women’s sled to compete in a World Cup four-man race, Justin Kripps and his crew stole the show by winning their first-career four-man medal in Lake Placid.
Three days after celebrating his 29th birthday, Kripps piloted his newly formed crew of Derek Plug (Calgary), Ben Coakwell (Saskatoon) and Alex Kopacz (London, Ont.) to the bronze medal, while posting a two-run time on the demanding 1,455-metre whippy track, which meanders its wind down Mount Van Hoevenberg in the Adirondacks of 1:50.07.
“It feels amazing. We had good training on Wednesday where the sled was going pretty quick and the boys were pushing good so I was optimistic about today,” said Kripps, who was fourth in Friday’s two man. “I was just looking for a season best finish, but we had big push times and that was the difference.”
They certainly did. Team Kripps combined to post the fastest start at 5.00 in the opening run, and bettered that time with the second-fastest push in their final blast off the start block at 4.98.
“Big starts mean big velocity which is key to getting on the podium,” said the two-time Olympian.
Germany’s Maximilian Arndt, Martin Putze, Ben Heber and Kevin Korona set the time to beat at 1:49.70. Alexander Kasjanov piloted his Russian crew to the silver at 1:49.98.
It was the third World Cup medal for Kripps as a pilot, and first-ever four-man podium. Both of his two-man medals came in Konigssee, Germany. Kripps won the Konigssee race just prior to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. He won the bronze in Konigssee last year.
“This is just a great day for the whole program. To be able to provide more optimism that we can medal in four man if we put everything together,” said Kripps. “We can always be improving – whether it is the driving, the starts, and the equipment – but this shows if we get everything working at the same time we can have success.”
It was the first career medal for Kopacz and Plug. Coakwell was also part of the last Canadian sled to reach the World Cup four-man podium when Chris Spring’s crew won the bronze medal at a World Cup stop in Whistler four years ago.
On Saturday, Chris Spring hit the start line for his first four-man event of the season while teaming up with fellow Calgarian Josh Kirkpatrick, Ontario’s Cam Stones and CFL star wide receiver Sam Giguere (Sherbrooke, Que.) who made his return to the Canadian Bobsleigh Team. Team Spring finished 12th with a time of 1:51.20.
Struggling to crack the four-man goose egg, Kripps and his coaches made a couple of adjustments to the crew following a Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton selection camp over the holidays.
“We tried the new combo with one day of training in Calgary. It wasn’t much faster but we went with it to try something different,” said Kripps. “It paid off. The guys have gelled nicely. Derek brings a lot of heart. Ben and Alex have also stepped it up a lot.”
Heading into the race, much of the spotlight was on four Canadians who were sliding into the history books as the first all-women’s crew to compete in a World Cup race.
Genevieve Thibault (Quebec City), Melissa Lotholz (Barrhead, Alta.), and Cynthia Appiah (Toronto) pushed Kaillie Humphries (Calgary) into the history books with a 17th-place finish at 1:54.47.
“It was a lot of fun, but I was definitely stressed about loading into the sled because we didn’t get a lot of practice heading into the race,” said the 29-year-old Thibault who joined the Canadian program this year following a standout athletic career in varsity track, and as a member of the national rugby 7’s squad.
It was the first ever World Cup start for Thibault and Appiah.
“I didn’t know my first race would be four-man,” laughed Thibault. “It is a lot different loading in the third spot than at the back so it will continue to take some practice. I just hope this is going to motivate other girls to try it as well because it would be great to eventually have a full women’s field.”
The decision to race an all women’s sled was made jointly by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and Humphries on over the holidays to not only help grow and develop the Canadian women’s bobsleigh program, but also to prepare the team for an all-women’s four-man exhibition race that will take centre stage at the World Championships next month.
“To be the first one is cool but at the end of the day I’m not doing it to be the first one. I’m doing it because it challenges myself to be a better pilot, to have something else to look forward to, something fun,” said Humphries.
“Step by step. We’re going to do what we can to show the world, show ourselves and show every girl out there that they can do whatever they set their hearts to.”
The World Cup now travels to Park City, Utah. Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton will welcome the world to the Whistler Sliding Centre, January 18-23.