The return of Lascelles Brown to Canada’s bobsleigh team has deepened competition among brakemen and created a rivalry with Jesse Lumsden.
The two big men went head to head during an indoor push-start competition at Calgary’s Ice House on Wednesday, taking turns lowering the Ice House record. Canada’s number one pilot Lyndon Rush seemed to enjoy every minute of the contest.
“It’s exciting times, it’s good, but I wouldn’t say I’m rubbing my hands together with glee,” Rush said. “I really couldn’t tell you right now who is going to be pushing me in the big races in the two-man. Either way, it’s a double-win.”
Brown won an Olympic silver medal with Pierre Lueders in 2006, followed by a bronze with Rush’s four-man team in 2010. The 38-year-old slid for Monaco the last two seasons, but is back wearing Canadian colours again.
“The plan was to come back from the beginning,” Brown said. “Only Lyndon Rush knew because I told him. I’m back now, feeling happy. This is where I belong.”
It’s been a few years since Lumsden, 30, was this healthy. The former CFL running back and Rush won silver in this year’s world championship. They finished the World Cup season ranked third in two-man even though Rush teased Lumsden for being “skinny and weak”.
Lumsden tore knee ligaments in late 2010 while playing for Calgary Stampeders. After reconstructive surgery, Lumsden was trying to regain his power and race bobsleigh at the same time last winter.
“This is the first off-season I’ve had to train without having surgery in about five years,” Lumsden said. “I took full advantage of it. It was nice to be able to move some weight again and put some weight back on.
“I’m about 230 pounds and I haven’t been this heavy in a long time. It feels good to be able to move at that weight.”
The Edmonton-born athlete also played for the Eskimos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats during his CFL career.
Lumsden, who is six foot three, has aspirations to drive on the World Cup circuit. The speed and power that made him such a coveted Canadian running back also makes it difficult for head coach Tom De La Hunty to move Lumsden off the brake.
Brown, who was born in Jamaica, also brought speed and power Wednesday. He narrowly beat Lumsden in pushing from the side of the sled. They’d both set indoor records pushing from the back end of the sled the previous day.
Wednesday’s session felt like a heavyweight bout with members of the men’s and women’s team loudly egging Brown and Lumsden onto faster pushes when they stepped to the start line. The two men bumped fists between passes and hugged at the conclusion of testing.
“Over the years when I was competing for Canada, (this) wasn’t a competition. I didn’t have a Jesse Lumsden,” Brown said. “I focused on the World Cups and the world championships, but now, there’s a Jesse Lumsden and he’s firing it. So I have to come in and fire it up too.”
Said Lumsden: “The last two days have been a battle. We’re pushing each other to be our best. He got me today.”
The Ice House sessions are one tool De La Hunty employs to create winning two-man and four-man teams, as well as women’s two-man sleds. He’ll name his World Cup team in late October following trials in both Calgary and Whistler, B.C.
“We try and find who the fastest guys are and you’ve got to try and marry them together,” De La Hunty said. “You try to blend the best athletes into the ideal team.”
Rush, from Humboldt, Sask., says the indoor push results are less significant in four-man racing. More bodies in the sled create mean more important variables to consider when forming a crew.
“Single-push testing in the Ice House and two-man racing is quite similar, but four-man racing and pushing and Ice House pushing are very different sports,” he explained. “It takes a lot more for a crew to come together. It’s a huge part of pushing fast, the team aspect of it.
“For instance, Jesse and Lascelles have never pushed together before. This will be the first time and there is a dynamic to it. They’ll have to work on it.”
The 2012-13 World Cup circuit opens Nov. 5 in Lake Placid, N.Y. The third and only Canadian stop is Nov. 19-25 in Whistler.
The world championships are Jan. 21 to Feb. 3 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are also less than 500 days away.
“The goal for this season is for us to gel and be a team,” Brown said. “So come the Olympic year, it’s like a, b, c, we just lock it in and they have to take the medal away from us.”
Reigning Olympic and world women’s champion Kaillie Humphries of Calgary was also auditioning for a brakeman Wednesday.
“She looks in awesome shape,” De La Hunty said. “Our challenge has been to find quality brakemen and we’ve got three or four very good girls coming through.
“We’re still very keen to encourage more girls into the sport because as you can see we’ve got a very big turnout for the men. The women, we’re not so strong at the moment with numbers.”
Humphries won this year’s world title with Edmonton’s Jenny Ciochetti in her sled. Ciochetti, however, will be piloting her own sled this season, says De La Hunty.