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Russia spent $50-billion (U.S.) on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. We don’t know how much of that went to hire Pierre Lueders, the Canadian coach of the Russian bobsleigh team, but whatever the price, it was worth it.
Lueders’s top Russian sliders in the two-man sled – pilot Alexander Zubkov and pusher Alexey Voevoda – won gold Monday in front of a thrilled hometown audience which cheered the slow splits of any team that threatened to deprive them of victory.
The win set a course record and marked Russia’s second sliding medal. Last Saturday, Alexander Tretiakov won gold in men’s skeleton.
The Swiss team of Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann took silver Monday, and Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton of the U.S. claimed bronze.
The best Canadian finish was the Canada 3 sled, piloted by Justin Kripps, in sixth. After the third heat, Kripps and pusher Bryan Barnett were in close fourth position and shooting for bronze, but in the fourth and final heat, the sled bumped the sides of the 1.5-kilometre course a few too many times.
The other two Canadian bobsleds finished seventh and ninth overall.
The Canadian competitors were well aware who had whipped the Russian team into winning form.
“Good for him,” said Lyndon Rush, the pilot of the ninth-place sled (with Lascelles Brown) and a bronze medalist in the four-man sled in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “I don’t want say anything bad. He’s a Canadian legend … He’s coaching the Russians, so I’m not really cheering for him.”
Lueders was Canada’s top driver before he, in effect, defected to Russia in 2012. He’s a five-time Olympian who won gold in the two-man bobsled at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, and silver in the same event at Turin in 2006. He retired after fifth-place finishes in the two- and four-man events at the 2010 Games.
The Canadians are still in good position for a sliding medal at Sochi.
On Wednesday, the women’s duo of driver Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, who took gold in Vancouver four years ago, are heavily favoured. The men’s four-man team competes Sunday, the closing day of the Games.
“We did some real good things and we made some mistakes,” said Jesse Lumsden, the former CFL player who was driver Chris Spring’s pusher in the seventh-place sled Monday. “But it’s the Olympics and everyone is bringing their A-game and we’re using this momentum to carry it to next week in the four-man.”