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Former CFL star Jesse Lumsden now a force on Canadian bobsled team

Jesse Lumsden, shown at a news conference in Calgary, Tuesday, May 17, 2011.

The Canadian Press

The intensity is mesmerizing when Canada's Jesse Lumsden steps behind the sled at the top of the bobsled course.

He takes a few deep breaths, grinds his teeth, and will maybe let out a yell. His darting eyes scan the icy track below and he might slap the side of the sled.

"I don't honestly remember too often what I'm thinking about," Lumsden said. "There's no real same sort of steps that I go through. I remind myself of a couple things that are going to help me push the sled and give 'er."

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With pilot Chris Spring by his side, Lumsden uses every bit of power from his chiselled frame to explode out of the start. The former CFL star compares the feeling to a special-teams play in football.

"You're going as hard as you possibly can for a short period of time," he said.

Coming off a stellar university career at McMaster, Lumsden joined the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2005. He spent four years with the Ticats before heading west, closing out his football career with injury-plagued seasons in Edmonton and Calgary.

"My Dad (former CFL star Neil Lumsden) had always joked, 'After football, you should try bobsled,"' he said. "I was like, 'Nah, I'm going to play football until I'm like 40 years old."

He didn't make it in the sport to age 30, never mind 40. Lumsden attended a bobsled push camp in February 2009, and treated it as a training opportunity that might help him on the field.

"That's the only way I really looked at it," he said. "Then when I got here, I really enjoyed the situation they put me in and had fun pushing the sled.

"It sort of became, 'Maybe this could actually turn into something."'

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Many bobsledders have football or track backgrounds, sports where power and explosiveness are key. Lumsden, from Burlington, Ont., has the perfect frame for bobsled and didn't take long to become an elite pusher.

He qualified for the 2010 Olympic team in the two-man and four-man sleds, finishing fifth in both events.

"I knew it was going to be very exhilarating to compete in the sport and something very different that I'm not really used to," he said. "I took it on head-on and have really enjoyed it."

He decided to focus solely on bobsled in 2011 and his return to the Winter Games has been top of mind ever since. Lumsden has put in the work to get to Sochi, spending seven hours a day training in the off-season.

His efforts are paying off.

Lumsden won silver at the world championship in 2012 and took the World Cup title last season with Lyndon Rush of Humboldt, Sask. Now 31, Lumsden is primed for Olympic success in the two-man and four-man sleds on the deep Canadian team.

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"He has such a rich history in this sport and in sport in general," Spring said. "He's an animal as we've seen over the years. It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that the start is taken care of.

"I've just got to worry about driving down the track and hopefully like I said, I put it where it needs to go."

Just like on the football field, there is a real sense of camaraderie on the Canadian bobsled team. It's a familiar vibe for the personable Lumsden, who took a few years to become fully comfortable with his new sport.

"I don't know if there is a defining moment for that," he said. "Just in the terms of comfort level in any situation. It's the same thing in the military, when you get infantry guys coming in for the first time, they're scared because they're in an environment that is completely foreign to them and surrounded by this physical presence of their officers.

"It's the same thing in football — a rookie going into a team — and it's the same thing in bobsled. You just develop relationships and trust with your teammates and friendships with other nations and that's when it becomes more of your environment."

Lumsden and Spring reached the podium in their first World Cup race of the season, taking bronze at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Spring said his partner is always pushing for perfection and he does it in his own inimitable fashion.

"He has the right amount of crazy about him," he said. "He watches video, but not too much. He sees what he needs to see and he's like, 'OK, now I'll go and do it.' And then he goes out there and does it."

Spring feels good about their chances when competition begins Feb. 16 at the Sanki Olympic Sliding Center.

"You need that magic, that little bit of luck, that something else to be an Olympic champion and Jesse definitely has that," Spring said. "That's why I'm excited to have him in the back of my sled."

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