COVID-19 has presented more twists and turns than any bobsleigh athlete has ever faced, but Canada’s newly-named National Bobsleigh Program Teams will stay ready while remaining focused on two major events during the varying pre-Olympic season: 2021 World Championships and Olympic Test Event.
Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton named 33 athletes to its 2020-21 National Bobsleigh Program on Friday.
“The track to Beijing 2022 is obviously a little bumpier than all of us are used to, but we have one of the largest group of bobsleigh athletes in the history of our national program who are experienced and determined to stay sharp with a clear mission: to win at all levels,” said Chris Le Bihan, high-performance director, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.
Olympic champion, Justin Kripps (Summerland, B.C.), and two-time World Championship medallist, Christine De Bruin (Stony Plain, Alta.) will lead the charge to the podium, while welcoming back veteran Olympic pilots Chris Spring (Vancouver) and Alysia Rissling (Edmonton) – who are both returning to the Senior Bobsleigh Team after a one-year hiatus.
A high-powered group of three women and four men will be ready to provide the horsepower behind Canada’s top sleds when called upon. Two-time Olympian Ben Coakwell (Saskatoon), Cam Stones (Whitby, Ont.), and Ryan Sommer (Kelowna, B.C.) will once again be the force behind Team Kripps’ sleds. Mark Mlakar (Mississauga, Ont.) also joins the deep crew on the Senior Bobsleigh Team.
Kristen Bujnowski (Mount Brydges, Ont.) will lead a trio of women who will get the nod to push Canada’s top-two sleds in women’s World Cup races. Dawn Richardson Wilson (Edmonton) and Sara Villani (Norval, Ont.) will make the jump up to the elite squad full-time this year.
“The depth in our program has grown significantly over the last three years led by this group of veterans who have developed a competitive and respectful culture of excellence where all athletes share a common goal to deliver medal-winning performances,” added Le Bihan. “This is a group of proven performers who have delivered under the most intense pressure. It promises to be an exciting ride over these final two critical seasons of our four-year plan.”
A dynamic group of youngsters, who have re-energized the program on the Development Bobsleigh Team, are also poised to make their mark internationally when Team Canada heads back to the start line this year.
A group of seven: Eden Wilson (Calgary); Erica Voss (Toronto); Mackenzie Stewart (Madeira Park, B.C.); Catherine Medeiros (Mascouche, QC); Niamh Haughey (Scarborough); Stefanie Schoenberger (Abbotsford, B.C.); and Stephanie Drost (Thunder Bay) will battle for opportunities to push three former brake women, who have now jumped into the pilot’s seat and control their drive towards Beijing 2022 and beyond.
Melissa Lotholz (Barrhead, Alta.), Bianca Ribi (Calgary), and Cynthia Appiah (Toronto) will continue their progression as pilots on the Development Bobsleigh Team.
On the men’s side, three Canadian Football League players will be amongst 12 men battling to push senior bobsleigh and NextGen piloted Canadian sleds this season along their path to becoming top brakemen as members of the Development Bobsleigh Team.
With the CFL on the sidelines, Shaquille Murray-Lawrence (Scarborough, Ont.); Jay Dearborn (Yarker, Ont.) and Kayden Johnson (Kerrobert, Sask.) will join a long list of football stars to take a run at bobsleigh. They will work alongside: Keefer Joyce (Kelowna, B.C.); Cyrus Gray (Duncan, B.C.); Josh Gilpin (Cambridge, Ont.); Orion Edwards (Newmarket, Ont.); Mike Evelyn (Ottawa); Anthony Couturier-Lagacé (Riviere-du-loup, Que.); Chris Patrician (Toronto); Will Auclair (Quebec City); and Dan Sunderland (Calgary).
A diverse group of coaches and support staff will ensure Team Canada stays ready through the ups and downs of the unpredictable track towards Beijing 2022.
Former women’s bobsleigh pilot from Belgium, Elfje Willemsen, has been recruited to lend her technical expertise to the coaching squad. Retired British bobsleigh athlete, Dave McCalla, takes over responsibilities as equipment technician.
Olympic silver-medal winning pilot, Todd Hays, continues as head coach. Jamie McCartney and Canada’s Olympic bronze-medal winning pilot, Lyndon Rush will provide technical coaching responsibilities along with longstanding Team Manager Graham Richardson.
The National Bobsleigh Program will split its time between taking valuable training runs at the world-leading Whistler Sliding Centre with working on their starts in the Ice House at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary until January when they plan to rejoin the World Cup circuit.
The BMW IBSF World Championships Bobsleigh + Skeleton 2021 is scheduled to take place in Altenberg, Germany, February 1-14. The Olympic Test Event in Beijing is slated for March 8-14.