ALTENBERG, Ger.—Canada’s bobsleigh athletes slid into 2018 with a bang, claiming gold in both the women’s and men’s two-man World Cup races Saturday on one of the most difficult tracks in the world in Altenberg, Germany.
Kaillie Humphries drove to her third victory of the World Cup season in record fashion, and first with a new brakeman in Phylicia George on her sled. Justin Kripps and Alex Kopacz continued the Canadian trail to the podium, capturing their first World Cup two-man title together while setting a new start record in Altenberg.
“This is just an absolutely huge day for our program and especially great to do it in Altenberg,” said Chris Le Bihan, high performance director, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton. “This is one of the hardest gold medals to get on the World Cup. To show up in the Lion’s Den here in Germany, and be able to perform and win, is the real deal.”
Racing together for just the second time this season, the Canadian duo of Humphries (Calgary) and George (Markham, Ont.) tamed the brutally tough track where they set a new track record in their first run at 56.22. The duo went on to shatter the field with the fastest final-run time, setting the winning mark at 1:52.62.
“It feels really good and we are happy with the performance. Phylicia and I worked really hard during the Christmas break. To be able to come out and perform, in only Phylicia’s second race, is great,” said Humphries. “We made big gains today with good pushes and I’m happy with how I drove. We are happy to walk away with the track record and we know there is lots of room to grow.”
It was the 22nd career victory for Humphries and 47th career World Cup podium to go along with her four World Championship and two Olympic medals.
“These challenging tracks are driving tracks that require you to be more focused or you are going to suffer the consequences,” said Humphries. “I love the challenge these tracks create when most of the girls are freaking out. I thrive on the scenario of having to stay focused on all the intricate details right from the start where you can’t just fumble your way down.”
It was the first career podium for the 30-year-old George who has fit right in on Canada’s top women’s sled in just her second World Cup race ever.
“It is a great feeling. I was excited to get back racing this weekend and to be able to make big strides after the work we put in over the break. Knowing where I was in September to where I am now – I am very happy,” said George.
A multi-sport athlete, George joined the Canadian bobsleigh program last year from the world of athletics. A two-time Olympic hurdler, George has made steady progress this fall – in just her first full season as a member of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s NextGen Team.
“Coming into this, it was a big challenge for me to step out of my comfort zone, but I really wanted to be focused and learn how to push a bobsleigh,” said George.
“I have been very patient trying to take everything in and trying to take as many reps as I can. This year I started doing a lot of mental reps as well because I do have limited time behind the sled. I know when I do have the chance, I have to bring it 100 per cent, and I’m happy I was able to do that. There is still lots of work to reach the ultimate goal to push at the Olympics, but I feel like I’m contributing more now and I know when a push feels good.”
The Canucks topped their American rivals in Jamie Greubel Poser and Aja Evans who were second with a time of 1:53.31. Germany’s Anna Koehler and Annika Drazek slid to the bronze at 1:53.32.
Edmonton’s Alysia Rissling and Heather Moyse, of Summerside, P.E.I. slid to the final spot in the top-10 with a time of 1:54.45. Christine de Bruin, of Stony Plain, Alta., and Toronto’s Cynthia Appiah were 13th (1:54.73).
Justin Kripps and Alex Kopacz Set Two Start Records to Win Two-Man Gold
The Canadians continued to put the maple leaf into the Altenberg record books on Saturday as Justin Kipps and Alex Kopacz set two start records before celebrating their first World Cup title together in the two-man race.
Kripps, of Summerland, B.C., and Kopacz, of London, Ont., clocked the fastest times in both heats to secure the gold medal with a time of 1:49.21. It was the fourth two-man medal this year for Kripps, who is the overall World Cup leader.
His only other World Cup two-man win came four years ago in Konigssee, Germany. Kopacz pushed Kripps to silver medals in both Whistler and Lake Placid earlier this year.
“Things are definitely rolling. To win here in Altenberg on such tough track is just awesome,” said Kripps, who now has seven career podium finishes in the two-man in addition to a silver at last year’s World Championships.
“Everything is coming together. I have more experience driving now. I went out and got the exact equipment, and runners, that I wanted, which is making a big difference.”
Depth in the program has also played a huge role in having all three Canadian men’s sleds charging towards the podium.
“Before every run I say ‘trust yourself, trust your teammates, and execute.’ It is easy to perform when you have that trust. We are in a good place and want to just keep rolling,” added Kripps.
Perform they did. Reuniting with Kopacz, the Canadian duo set start records in both runs. Posting a start time of 5.12 in the opening heat, the Canucks bettered that in the final run to set the new mark at 5.11.
“We showed up and pushed today. We reviewed the first push and identified one minor mistake, and we nailed it on the second run. When things are going good it feels effortless. It is unbelievable,” said Kopacz.
“I’m just over the moon right now. We have been training hard, and I felt it was a matter of time until things paid off. We are heading in the right direction, and it is a lot of fun right now.”
The Canadians shared the podium with two German sleds. Francesco Friedrich and Martin Grothkopp slid to the silver medal at 1:49.30. Nico Walther and Christian Poser clocked-in at 1:49.48 for the bronze.
It was a solid day for Canada’s second-year World Cup pilot, Nick Poloniato (Hamilton), and Neville Wright (Edmonton), who finished in fifth spot with a time of 1:49.80.
“I had lots of confidence coming into the race. I knew I just needed to focus on a fast push and good driving. I know I have the ability to be there and compete with these guys if I have two really good runs,” said Poloniato.
Calgary’s Chris Spring and Jesse Lumsden, of Burlington, Ont., finished 13th with a time of 1:50.22.
The World Cup continues on Sunday in Altenberg with the four-man bobsleigh race.