Opinion | Canadians deny German sweep with Olympic four-man bobsled bronze

BEIJING There was a moment more than a decade ago when Justin Kripps thought he might be finished with racing bobsleds. He’d just competed at the Vancouver Olympics as a pusher in Pierre Lueders’s four-man crew. He was 23 years old and seriously pondering a more conventional career path than the occasionally tenuous existence of full-time Olympic athlete.

“But I remember one of my good buddies said to me, ‘You know, conventional life is not all it’s cracked up to be. You’ve got something special going on here. You should do it as long as you keep enjoying it,’” Kripps was saying recently. “He was in med school at the time. So coming from him, I thought that was pretty good advice. I decided I enjoyed what I’m doing. I haven’t looked back since.”

Twelve years and three more Olympics later, Sunday’s final run of the four-man Olympic bobsled race provided the latest bit of validation of Kripps’s not-so-conventional career track.

At a Games in which Germany has declared its mind-boggling dominance in sliding sports, Kripps’s four-man Canadian team did well to find a place on the podium, winning the bronze medal to spoil a German sweep.

German drivers Francesco Friedrich and Johannes Lochner won gold and silver, respectively, while the third German sled, piloted by Christoph Hafer, finished fourth, just six-hundredths of a second behind Canada.

Kripps, along with crewmen Ryan Sommer, Cam Stones and Benjamin Coakwell, won his second medal in as many Games, following up the gold he won in the two-man event four years ago in Pyeongchang. He became just the third Canadian pilot to win a medal in the four-man event, joining Vic Emery, who won gold in Innsbruck in 1964, and Lyndon Rush, who won bronze in 2010.

“Just absolutely huge. I’m at a loss for words,” Kripps said. “The boys did amazing. We couldn’t be happier.”

Friedrich, the four-time defending world champion in four-man, completed a second straight Olympic sweep. After winning both the four-man and two-man events in Pyeongchang four years ago — tying for gold with Kripps in a memorable two-man final — he repeated the trick at Yanqing National Sliding Center.

Kripps did well to nudge another German off the podium. While Friedrich’s superiority is long-standing, Germany’s dominance in sliding sports has been taken to a new level at these Olympics. There were 10 gold medals available in bobsled, luge and skeleton here. Germany won an astonishing nine of them.

The country’s only miss came in women’s monobob, where Kaillie Humphries of the United States won gold. Monobob is a first-time Olympic event wherein the sleds are standard in an attempt to minimize technological advantages and put more of an emphasis on the athletic ability and driving skill of the competitors.

It’s fueled a conversation inside the sport about the need to curb Germany’s massive advantage in the research and development of proprietary equipment that has put them in a class by themselves. Bobsleds aren’t equipped with motors beyond the super athletes who push them out of the start house, but there are those who’ve compared the sport to Formula One racing, where the best-funded teams carve out near-insurmountable advantages that no amount of driving talent can overcome.

“The Germans are quite far ahead in terms of their equipment and how much money they put into it,” Kripps said. “They pretty much consistently have the best sleds, and nobody else can get them. They’re just really, really on the top of their game as far as their equipment … But you can still beat them.”

Kripps, at least, found a way to beat one of them. And to stand on his second Olympic podium on Sunday, one was exactly enough.

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