Chris Spring and his Canadian four-man crew capped off a triple medal week with an emotional gold-medal victory in Canada’s return to bobsleigh racing on the Europe Cup circuit in Altenberg, Germany.
Competing for the first time in more than a year after sitting last season out to rest his aging body, the 36-year-old Calgarian stormed back onto the international bobsleigh scene this week on a track that has troubled the three-time Olympian throughout his career.
Winning a two-man bronze medal with Mark Mlakar (Mississauga, Ont.) on Thursday, Spring joined forces with Ottawa’s Mike Evelyn to claim a two-man silver Friday. The trio added CFLer, and new recruit to the Canadian bobsleigh program – Shaquille Murray-Lawrence (Scarborough, Ont.) – into the big sled on Saturday to win gold in the four-man with a time of 1:50.08.
“Today I learned a great life lesson. If you just keep going, keep showing up, be patient, endure and believe, then you can still surprise yourself even at my age,” said Spring, who was also working on acquiring his pilot’s license to fly airplanes during his year off.
The triumphant week was extra special given it was the ninth anniversary of Spring’s horrific crash during a training run on the challenging Altenberg track that sent he and his crew to hospital on January 5, 2012. While the multiple World Cup medallist has competed on the track many times since, this is the first time he has been in Altenberg on the anniversary. In fact, a successful training run earlier this week was the first time he has slid since on January 5.
“There’s a lot of emotions that surround this track and my history here. For a long time, I battled with dealing with that crash and getting over it. I think I’ve gotten to a place now where I like to welcome in the fear that creeps in every now and again to remind myself that what we’re doing here is dangerous, but also very special,” said Spring, who added that many of the top German pilots have helped him conquer the past by providing him advice on how to commandeer the 17-corner chute.
“I always believed we could come back and win here, but when it happens, it really is a special moment. We are enjoying the moment now, but we know when we come back here for World Championships (next month) the competition is going to be much harder. We still have a lot of work to do, but for right now, we will try and take this moment into next week where all of the guys will debut on the World Cup Tour in St. Moritz.”
The Canadian sled finished on top of a trio of German teams. Maximilian Illmann, Max PIetza, Hannes Schenk and Felilx Dahms were second at 1:50.10. Hans Peter Hannighofer, Christian Roeder, Paul Hensel and Tim Gessenhardt were third with a time of 1:50.50.
Canadian Sleds Slide to Career-Best Fifth-Place Results at Winterberg in Return to World Cup
Meanwhile, over in Winterberg, Germany Canada’s sleds top women’s and men’s sleds both finished fifth in their return to World Cup bobsleigh action. The Canadian Team stayed home for the first half of the season due to international travel risks associated with COVID-19.
Christine de Bruin (Stony Plain, Alta.) teamed up with World Cup rookie brakeman, Sara Villlani (Norval, Ont.), to clock a fifth-place two-run time of 1:54.43 in the women’s bobsleigh race. Her previous best in Winterberg was seventh.
Germany’s Laura Nolte and Deborah Levi won the gold with a time of 1:53.60. Kim Kalicki and Ann-Christin Strack slid to second place at 1:54.02, while Katrin Beierl and Jennifer Onasanya finished deadlocked in third at 1:54.39 with Germany’s Mariama Jamanka and Leonie Fiebig.
It was the same picture for the Canadians in the men’s two-man race as Olympic champion, Justin Kripps (Summerland, B.C.) and Cam Stones (Whitby, Ont.), were also happy with a fifth-place finish after punching the clock at 1:51.21.
“I thought it was a good start today. I tried some new things this week on the track as I haven’t had much success here in the past. Some of it went well and I think I’m on the right track, but I made some mistakes as well, so we didn’t get a big result,” said Kripps, who is three days removed from his 34th birthday.
“We had good starts and decent drives and we tied our best result here in Winterberg so, overall, it was a great return to the World Cup for us. We’re just so happy to be able to be racing during these challenging times. We’re looking forward to a good day in the four-man tomorrow.”
The Germans snagged the top-two spots on the podium. Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis were first at 1:50.08. Johannes Lochner and Eric Franke slid to the silver at 1:50.75. Austria’s Benjamin Maier and Markus Sammer celebrated the bronze medal with a time of 1:50.93.
Maier’s wife, Elisabeth, was the top Canadian in Friday’s skeleton action. The Canuck clocked in at 1:55.68 for her second-straight sixth-place finish in her return to the World Cup since taking last season off to have a baby.
“I made some pretty critical mistakes in the first run, but I was pleased with my composure and my second run was a good improvement,” said Elisabeth Maier. “I am okay with the result, but I’m still wanting to get on that podium, and wanting more. The goal is definitely to build towards World Champs.”
Russia’s Elena Nikitina won the women’s race with a time of 1:55.10. Calgary’s Jaclyn Laberge was 21st in her World Cup debut.
Kevin Boyer, of Sherwood, Park, Alta., was 16th in the men’s skeleton race with a time of 1:54.52. Calgary’s Mark Lynch was 18th in his first-ever World Cup race, clocking-in at 1:54.97. Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov posted the fastest time on the quick Winterberg track at 1:52.36 to take the gold medal.