PYEONGCHANG, Kor.—Canada’s Next Generation of bobsleigh athletes have arrived, and officially introduced themselves to the world in PyeongChang, Korea on Saturday.
It was a dream ending to a rookie season on the women’s World Cup bobsleigh circuit for Canada’s Alysia Rissling and Cynthia Appiah when they won the bronze medal on Saturday.
If that wasn’t enough, men’s rookie pilot Nick Poloniato, of Hamilton, teamed up with veteran Lascelles Brown to finish a career-best fourth in the men’s two-man race.
Edmonton’s Rissling and Toronto’s Appiah rocked fast starts and near perfect driving on the tricky 16-corner Olympic Track at the Alpensia Sliding Centre to win their first World Cup medal together at the season-ending race, clocking a third-place time of 1:44.06.
“You always go to bed wishing you have a chance to medal, but whether it is realistic or not is a different story,” said Rissling. “Cynthia and I went into this race with high expectations of our ourselves. We were pushing fast in training and considering it’s the last race of the year, our bodies felt good. Over the next seven months I’m going make sure I do everything I can throughout the summer so I’m prepared when I get to this spot again in February.”
The 28-year-old Rissling, a former University of Alberta basketball player, and Appiah, showed the determination of the sports top veterans while looking for more despite sitting one spot off the podium after putting down the fourth fastest start time at 5.37 in their first descent down the world’s newest icy chute.
“We were a bit disappointed with our first push so we told each other to lay it all out there for the last run of the season,” said Rissling.
They certainly did. The Canadian duo put down the third-fastest second-run start time at 5.33 and Rissling got the sled down the track in the second fastest down time at 51.96 to secure the bronze medal.
“We brought it today,” said Appiah. “We knew what we were capable of in Konigssee and we brought it to the track today. We laid it all out there in the second run and we got the result we were hoping for. It was a hard result to achieve, but nonetheless, we believed in our capabilities as athletes and hit our goals. Now it’s off to training during the summer and fixing our weaknesses to make an even bigger impact next February.”
They Canadians finished just behind a dynamic one-two American threat. Jamie Greubel Poser and Aja Evans secured the overall World Cup title after winning the race with a time of 1:43.65. Elana Meyers Taylor and Lolo Jones were second at 1:43.80.
It was only a matter of time for Rissling to become the first Canadian women’s sled driven by someone other than two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries to slide onto the World Cup podium. The last time a Canadian woman other than Humphries drove to the podium occurred seven years ago.
Excelling in all levels of her development, Rissling made an immediate impact on her arrival onto the World Cup, finishing fourth at the season-opener in Whistler, and fifth in Lake Placid. Racing with multiple brakemen throughout the year, Rissling and Appiah first teamed up for the World Championships in Konigssee where they validated their potential with a sixth-place finish.
Backing that performance up with a medal, the Canadian duo confirmed Canada now legitimately has two women’s bobsleighs capable of podium performances on the Korean track.
“Drive-wise I just wanted to be consistent. There is still lots of progress to be made,” added Rissling. “This track is extremely challenging because there is very little pressure, and some of the corner’s natural lines don’t let you go straight where you want to. You have to make quick decisions based on your entry on how to achieve the optimal line. Although the speed isn’t crazy, some of the transitions are tight so it feels faster than it really is.”
Prior to joining forces with Rissling, the 26-year-old Appiah pushed Humphries to two of her six podium finishes during the pre-Olympic season. Appiah was in Canada’s golden sled at the season opener in Whistler, and the following week in Lake Placid when they claimed the bronze medal.
Humprhies came into the final race of the year with a slight lead in the overall World Cup title, but ended up second after a disappointing fifth-place finish on Saturday. Calgary’s Humphries, and Melissa Lotholz of Barrhead, Alta., were in sixth spot after the opening run but jumped into fifth at 1:44.17 after matching their Canadian mates’ second-fastest final run down time at 51.96.
Nick Poloniato Narrowly Misses First Two-Man Bobsleigh Podium in Fourth
Building on a fifth-place two-man finish at the recent World Championships, Canada’s rookie pilot Nick Poloniato gave a warning sign to the world he is also now ready to contend for the podium.
The 29-year-old former varsity football player, teamed up with two-time Olympic medallist Lascelles Brown for a career-best fourth-place finish with a two-run time of 1:41.21, thanks to a lightening-quick second run.
Poloniato led all three Canadian men’s sleds into the top-10. Calgary’s Chris Spring and Neville Wright slid to seventh place with a time of 1:41.34. Justin Kripps, of Summerland, B.C., and Jesse Lumsden, of Burlington, Ont., rebounded after a difficult opening run to post the second-fastest time in the final heat to secure eighth spot overall, clocking-in at 1:41.35.
“The training week and test event has been a success for us,” said Kripps. “We didn’t get the result we wanted in the two-man because of a key mistake at the top of the track. I tried to be too cute in corner two and it backfired. I didn’t make the same mistake twice and was happy to have the second fastest run in the second heat. I think this event is a key opportunity to test lines and equipment and we’ve gotten what we needed to out of it.”
Germany’s Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis won the test event in Korea with a time of 1:40.82. Latvia’s Oskars Kibermanis and Matiss Miknis slid to the silver medal at 1:41.12, while Germany’s Johannes Lochner and Joshua Bluhm claimed the final step of the men’s podium with a time of 1:41.16.
The World Cup season wraps up on Sunday with the four-man bobsleigh race.