Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries picked up her sixth consecutive women’s bobsleigh victory and the Canadian team earned four medals in all during IBSF World Cup racing at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Friday and Saturday (Nov. 23 and 24).
Sarah Reid picked up a silver to lead a strong showing from the host nation in women’s skeleton, Lyndon Rush had a runner-up result in the two-man bobsleigh race and Chris Spring netted a top-three finish in Saturday’s four-man event for the first World Cup podium of his career.
But it was Humphries, and rookie brakeman Chelsea Valois, who completed a sweep of the three North American legs of the World Cup tour and built upon the streak she started in Whistler late last season.
“The North American tracks like me and I like them too, so hopefully we can keep the streak going in Europe,” said Humphries. “I did think there was potential to get off to this start — especially seeing the tonnes of potential that Chelsea has shown all along.”
Humphries built up a 0.69-second margin of victory over two runs on Friday night, but her dominance of the Whistler track is nothing new — she’s got three victories and a bronze here dating back to the Games.
The Swiss team of Fabienne Meyer and first-time World Cup brakeman Elisabeth Graf took second spot, and third place belonged to Germany's Sandra Kiriasis and Berit Wiacker. Pilot Jenny Ciochetti and partner Kate O'Brien finished 13th in the Canada 2 sled.
Valois, a Saskatchewan native who only joined the national team in the summer, now has three-straight World Cup victories to start her career.
"I do have to pinch myself," she laughed. "I didn't know what to expect when I joined the sport, but I knew by making Kaillie's team I'd have some success. That was a big accomplishment for me. I have been learning as I go, and still have lots of work to do, but it has been good so far."
Spring had a true breakout performance over the weekend — initially securing his first top-five finish on Friday afternoon while partnered with Jesse Lumsden for the two-man race, then guiding the Canada 2 four-man sled to the bronze-medal position on Saturday.
Pushed by teammates Tim Randall, Ben Coakwell and Adam Rosenke, Spring posted two consistent runs and moved past Olympic champ Steven Holcomb’s USA 1 in the second heat.
"This field is so deep. I'm going to be smiling for a long time here — this bronze medal is huge for us," said Spring, whose previous best four-man finish came at Park City, Utah, the week prior, when he was eighth.
“I thought Holcomb was going to lay down another great run as he always does, but to see those red numbers come up and for us to be in first at the time, I just can’t describe it,” continued Spring. “It is a little out-of-body for me at the moment, I’m just going to have a good time experiencing this with these boys.”
Russian sleds won gold and silver in Saturday morning’s four-man race, with the Alexander Zubkov-led Russia 1 taking top spot and pilot Alexander Kasjanov driving his team to second place.
Rush left with a silver medal from Friday’s race, but generally wasn’t thrilled with how his weekend went. He drove the Canada 1 sled with Lascelles Brown to second place but wound up .04 seconds back of the winning American duo, Holcomb and Steven Langton. The Russia 1 and Germany 3 sleds shared the final podium step, tied after two runs.
"I feel like it's gold or nothing here," said Rush, who was visibly crestfallen when watching Holcomb come in with the winning time. "I made a mistake on that second run. I made an error in corner four, and that's a pretty costly one.
"He put down a really good run and just clipped me."
Rush, who drove to bronze in four-man during the Olympics, said Friday that he didn’t love the Canadian squad’s two-man strategy, which put most of his four-man crew in action on back-to-back days. With Brown, Lumsden and Neville Wright in the back seats, he finished eighth on Saturday.
Canada 3 pilot Justin Kripps teamed up with Cody Sorenson to take 12th place in two-man competition, then finished 13th in four-man racing.
Skeleton women stay strong
Canadian women took three of the top five spots in women's skeleton to kick things off Friday morning, led by Reid’s silver-medal finish.
Reid earned the second World Cup podium of her career, moving up one spot from her third-place standing in the first heat.
"I'm really excited," said Reid, who won the season-opening race at Lake Placid, but fell out of the top 10 at Park City a week later. "(Park City) wasn't a great race for me, especially coming off of such a good race in Placid. I wanted to put some pressure on myself this week and really set high goals for myself, so it's nice to touch the podium in this race."
Germany's Marion Thees, twice a winner in Whistler before, was victorious again on Friday, finishing 0.17 seconds clear of Reid. Great Britain's Elizabeth Yarnold put down a blistering second run to take bronze.
Canadian rookie Cassie Hawrysh netted her second-straight fourth-place result, missing the first podium of her career by just .02 seconds. Mellisa Hollingsworth, the race's defending champion, wound up fifth despite battling illness all week. It was the first time in nearly 10 years that Canada had three women finish in the top five.
Hawrysh, who has just three starts at the World Cup level, wasn't dwelling on the small margin between herself and a podium finish.
"After three races, it's not frustrating, it's great," she said. "It's another Olympic qualifier for me, so that's really what the goal is this year, that's the main purpose. I'll get on the big podium when it really matters … but that's exactly why they give medals all the way to sixth, because racing in skeleton (comes down to) hundredths."
The three Canadians hold spots in the top seven of the World Cup standings, with Reid sitting third, Hollingsworth fifth and Hawrysh occupying seventh place.
Kelowna's Eric Neilson matched a career-best on the World Cup circuit when he placed fifth in men’s skeleton to close out the World Cup stop Saturday.
"It could have been a little better, but I'll take that any day," laughed Neilson, who was happy to improve upon his 19th-place finish in Whistler last year. "It's a really good turnover from last year. I think things started to click in selections here (in October); I started to understand the track a little more and things were coming to me a little better."
Germany's Frank Rommel slipped past defending champ Martins Dukurs of Latvia on the second run to win. Tomass Dukurs finished third to give Latvia two of three podium spots.
Canada’s John Fairbairn also matched a career-best set in Whistler last year by placing eighth, but the 28-year-old said there was room for improvement.
“My goal coming into this week was top six for our Olympic qualifiers and I missed it by less than two-tenths, so it’s a little disappointing on that end,” he said. “But we’ve got six or seven more races to get it done this season.”
Olympic champion Jon Montgomery, previously undefeated in international competition in Whistler, wound up 12th.
World Cup racing now heads over to Europe for the remainder of the season, with the next event at Winterberg, Germany in two weeks. Sliding competition continues at the Whistler track this weekend, with Intercontinental Cup skeleton races scheduled for Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 1 and 2).