CALGARY—Lonnie Bissonnette will have his name etched in the history books as the first ever Canadian Para-bobsleigh champion, while Team Humphries and Team Kripps will head into the World Cup season with the recognition of being Canada’s best.
Bissonnette, of St. Catharine’s, Ont., handily won the inaugural Para-bobsleigh national championships. The 47-year-old extreme athlete, who was paralyzed while doing a base jump in 2004, rocked the three-man field.
“In future years when I’m done it will be nice to look back and say I’m the first Para-bobsleigh champion, but right now I really try to focus on each run, and just keep getting better,” said Bissonnette, who is competing in his fourth year in the sport and is the reigning World Champion.
Para-bobsleigh consists of athletes piloting a mono-bob after being dropped into the track at the crest of the downslope. The International Paralympic Committee provisionally added Para-bobsleigh into the 2022 Paralympic lineup. Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton is now beginning to do its part to grow the race discipline across the country.
“I really hope the Canadian Championships will help explode this sport in Canada,” added Bissonnette. “We need more athletes coming out in order for the development of the sport to happen. I’m hoping this exposure will bring guys out to give it a try. It is a great opportunity for disabled athletes to have this instead of the traditional para-sports. There are a a lot of guys out there looking for the high speed, high adrenaline types of sports, and this provides that.”
Two of those guys finished second and third behind Bissonnette on Saturday at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park. Edmonton’s Brian McPherson was second, while Calgary’s Armando Zavaleta was third.
Meanwhile, Kaillie Humphries and Justin Kripps also piloted their two-man sleds to national titles.
Calgary’s Humphries and her brakeman, Melissa Lotholz of Barrhead, Alta., clocked the fastest times in each of their two runs on 14-corner Olympic track in the women’s race. Canada’s top duo, who are sporting a slick new sled, posted a winning combined time of 1:56.22.
“The race today went well and was fun. Right now we are continuing to get that feel for the new sled and it is going well. Just getting more practice, more sliding and getting a feel for things before the World Cup starts is the goal,” said Humphries. “What I’m most excited for today though is watching our next generation of girls pushing each other, which is so good to see for the future of our program.”
Calgary’s Alysia Rissling teamed up with Quebec City’s Genvieve Thibault to finish in second place in the women’s race with a time of 1:57.19. Christine de Bruin, of Stony Plain, Alta., and Montreal’s Catherine Medeiros clocked-in at 1:57.32 to claim the final spot on the podium.
Justin Kripps, of Summerland, B.C., welcomed back Jesse Lumsden, of Burlington, Ont., into his sled to claim the men’s two-man title. The Canadian duo put together the top two start and run times for a golden time of 1:53.04.
“Things are going really well for this time of year. We always want to go faster, but things are getting better each day and I’m happy with where I’m at,” said Kripps. “It is great to have Jesse back in the program this year. He is such a great team guy and will make a big difference having him with us.”
Sitting in third place after his first blast down the 1,450-metre track, Calgary’s Chris Spring and Lascelles Brown climbed one spot in their final descent to win the silver medal at 1:53.36. Nick Poloniato, of Hamilton, and Tim Randall, of Burlington, Ont., were forced to settle for third place with a time of 1:53.49.
The men’s four-man and first-ever women’s four-man Canadian Bobsleigh Championship event takes place Sunday at Canada Olympic Park. Races begin at 1 p.m. MTN.