Yep. They’re on the track again, competitive biological clocks already set for Sochi and 2014. Remember how revved up Canadians were ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics? Don’t expect less from our 2014 Russian hosts.
Winning a couple of hockey gold medals won’t be enough to bring it home. If Canada is to threaten the hosts’ medal total, it will need to stake a claim 60 kilometres northeast of Sochi, at the Sliding Center Sanki in Rzhanaya Polyana.
Whether it’s bobsleigh, skeleton or luge – the latter of which opens its season Nov. 24-25 in Igls, Austria – Canada has become a player in winter sliding sports. The Whistler Sliding Centre was the epicentre of sadness and joy for Canadians in 2010, and our sliding programs are going through forced and unforced transition, starting this weekend with the skeleton and bobsleigh World Cup events in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Pierre Lueders is coaching in Russia. Women’s silver medalists Helen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown have retired. Heather Moyse, the brakeman on Kaillie Humphries’ gold-medal sled, needs to pass physical testing to rejoin the team in January.
There are familiar faces. Men’s skeleton gold medalist Jon Montgomery of Russell, Man., is back after a year’s absence, but his new sled was not one of the 10 to advance to Friday’s third and final heat.
Calgary’s Sarah Reid, 25, and Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., held down the top two spots after Thursday’s two heats and advanced to Friday’s final heat in the women’s skeleton. The bobsleigh events start Friday, with Canada running three sleds. Lyndon Rush and Jesse Lumsden are familiar Olympic faces joined by Lascelles Brown, back after a stint with Monaco 1, and Humphries piloting the Canada 1 women’s sled.
There are new faces, in a disparate group recruited from track and field and football. Montgomery is no longer the resident flat-lander in the program. Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh is a 28-year-old skeleton racer and former volleyball and track athlete who qualified at national trials this year, essentially making a competitive jump equivalent to going from high Single-A to the majors.
Humphries will be pushed by Chelsea Valois of Zenon Park, Sask., who will be celebrating her – what? – third month in the program Friday?
“Here was this tall, rangy girl who walked into the room and immediately she was able to push the sled as fast as all the best athletes we had,” Canadian bobsleigh coach Tom Delahunty said of Valois. “She’s quite a phenomenon. You see a lot of men walk in and pick it up quickly, because they tend to be in explosive sports, but Chelsea’s done a fantastic job.”
Hawrysh will be cheering on Reid and Hollingsworth on Friday after finishing 11th on Thursday in her first World Cup race. There’s a randomness to how many come to the sliding sports, and Hawrysh admits she “missed some signposts” until she went to the national team’s sliding school in Calgary in October of 2009 after playing volleyball at the University of Windsor and running track at the University of Regina.
“I remember my mother [Kathy] coming out and watching me one time and saying: ‘You know, Cassie, I have a feeling about this, a weird feeling that this is for you. I don’t know why, I just know,’” Hawrysh said by Skype on Thursday.
Now Hawrysh loves what she calls “the obsessive attention to detail,” the way her mistakes are shown to her “blatantly, on paper or videotape.”
“It’s a lot of meticulous time spent worrying about angles – your arm angle, your knee angle, the angle your foot hits the ice and how fast it is,” Hawrysh said. “And you have to transfer it to the weight room. When you run stairs, you have to think about how you strike the stairs with your foot.”
The natural tendency is to see Hawrysh as an adrenalin junkie. Not true.
“Oh no, I mean, I don’t even drive my vehicle fast,” Hawrysh said, chuckling. “The rush I get isn’t from adrenalin. I think it’s just that I’m using a different part of my athletic skills. My brain.”