By Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
The next generation of Canadian bobsledders believe they’ve got something to build on this World Cup season.
Calgary’s Taylor Austin piloted a four-man sled with Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, Cyrus Gray and Davidson de Souza to bronze in snowy Whistler, B.C., on Saturday. The medal is their first ever on the circuit and comes in the first stop of the season.
“It gives us some pretty good confidence, some camaraderie, the boys coming together, pushing hard, sliding fast,” Austin said. “So we’ve just got to keep it going for the next couple of races.”
Several Canadian bobsled veterans retired following the Beijing Olympics, creating space for Austin and others to move up from the development team.
“Obviously we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s a new team, so we’ve just got to come together and keep getting better.”
Germany’s Francesco Friedrich captured gold in the two-heat race with a time of one minute, 41.56 seconds. It was the reigning Olympic and European Cup champion’s 42nd medal in the four-man discipline.
Brad Hall of Great Britain was 0.42 seconds behind and took silver in a field that included 10 sleds from six countries.
“We feel good. We start good, we had an amazingly good run in the second,” Friedrich said. “I’m really happy with the result here.”
There were some tense moments midway through the race when a German sled piloted by Christoph Hafer struggled with its brakes after the finish line and skidded off the end of the track, into a parking lot. The impact damaged the sled’s runners, forcing Hafer and his team to drop out of the second heat.
Austin and Murray-Lawrence finished sixth in the two-man bobsled Friday, a race that marked yet another first-place finish for Friedrich.
Friday also saw Winnipeg’s Bianca Ribi race in her first World Cup as a pilot and capture gold in women’s monobob. The 26-year-old then teamed up with brakewoman Niamh Haughey on Saturday and added a fifth-place finish in two-woman bobsled to her resume.
“We’ve been having a great time, even at our lowest points. So I’m really happy with the foundation that we’ve laid for the rest of the season,” Ribi said.
“I think going into future World Cups, we can just kind of build off of this and it builds our team cohesion, definitely. As the racing goes on, we learn each other better and we continue to build that trust. So I’m confident this is just the beginning.”
Ribi and Haughey were the top Canadians in a field of eight sleds hailing from four different nations.
The duo finished behind Kim Kalicki and Anabel Galander of Germany, who clocked a time of 1:45.93 to take first place. The 25-year-old pilot described winning her fourth World Cup gold as “absolutely incredible.”
“We were very happy here on that difficult track in Whistler. First time for us here. But we’re very, very happy,” Kalicki said.
Melanie Hasler and Nadja Pasternack of Switzerland came in 0.20 seconds behind the Germans to take silver, and Americans Kaillie Humphries and Emily Renna finished third.
Canada’s Cynthia Appiah placed sixth with brakewoman Leah Walkeden, who made her World Cup debut.
“It was so nerve-racking,” said Walkeden, a 29-year-old former sprinter at the University of Alberta. “But the great thing about bobsled and the brakeman is that every practice is the same as every race. I push, I get in, I pull the brakes.”
Appiah, one of the Canadian team’s most veteran athletes, won silver in the monobob on Friday.
She was visibly frustrated after her first run Saturday, holding her head in her hands momentarily before getting out of the sled.
“We know we can do better,” Walkeden said. “We just said, ‘It is what it is, it happened. We just need to lay down a way cleaner run on the second run. We know we can do it.’ And we did. … We turned it around and ended on a high note.”
American World Cup rookies Riley Compton and Macy Tarlton did not finish the first heat after crashing midway through the run.