THE WINTER GAMES

Speed demons

Bobsled crews push each other towards the goal of Olympic glory

MARY NEMETH February 14 1994
THE WINTER GAMES

Speed demons

Bobsled crews push each other towards the goal of Olympic glory

MARY NEMETH February 14 1994

Speed demons

THE WINTER GAMES

Bobsled crews push each other towards the goal of Olympic glory

MARY NEMETH

One is a scarred veteran, a third-time Olympian; the other, the boy wonder of Canada’s bobsledding fraternity.

Both are legitimate contenders in a daredevil sport long dominated by Europeans. After 10 racing seasons, 31-year-old Chris Lori has 16 World Cup medals under his belt—more than any other North American. The Windsor, Ont., native also won Canada’s first overall World Cup bobsled title in 1990. But Lori, whose face still bears the scars of a horrific 1987 sledding crash, has yet to win an Olympic medal. And just as he is entering what will almost certainly be his last Winter Games, his teammate, 23-year-old Pierre Lueders of Edmonton, is threatening to surpass him. In 1992, Lueders won the first World Cup race he ever entered as a driver. And this season, only his second on the circuit, he won the overall two-man and the combined twoand four-man World Cup titles. Both Lori—an experienced pilot with a natural feel for the track—and Lueders—known for his explosive starts—downplay their rivalry. “It’s good for me to have someone to catch,” says Lueders. “And Chris is hying to get his crew to catch us at the start. The whole program will benefit from us pushing each other.”

The question is whether they can push hard enough to propel a Canadian to the top of the medal podium. “There are more than 30 other teams with the same goal,” cautions Lueders. Switzerland’s Gustav Weder, who won a gold at the 1992 Albertville Games, is a favorite. Germany’s Wolfgang Hoppe and Italy’s Guenther Huber should also provide tough competition. “It’s going to be wide open,” predicts Lori, “and very close.”

Lori and Lueders have been pre-selected to represent Canada in both the two-man and four-man events. But Lori says that he may yet pull out of the two-man to save his crew for the marquee four-man race, where the heavier, less manoeuvrable sled favors experienced drivers. Lueders is expected to excel in the two-man. “It’s more suited to my style,” he explains. “It’s a smaller sled and you can cut in and out of comers. I love cutting comers.”

Canadian bobsledders have been on the cusp of Olympic glory before. But their last—and only—medal was the gold that Victor Emery and his crew won at the 1964 Games in Innsbmck, Austria. In those days, even the top international racers only practised and raced a few weeks a year. Now, they train year-round in a sport where a heartbeat

can separate winners from losers. Just ask Lori. Canada’s top bobsled hopeful going into the 1992 Olympics, Lori lost the runoff for a spot on Canada’s two-man team by just four one-hundredths of a second. Then, his four-man sled missed out on a medal by 11 one-hundredths of a second. In Norway, he does not intend to miss. “I’m 31 years old,” says Lori. “I’m not going to the Olympics just to have a good time.” When races are so close, the first momentum-gathering 50 m—where drivers and their crewmen push their sleds before jumping in—are key. A one-tenth of a second loss at the start can translate into three-tenths by the bottom. On the way down, a driver can shave further fractions of seconds as he manipulates a sled hurtling along a twisting track at speeds of more than 135 km/h. Lori and his crew have struggled with their starts. But the addition of Glenroy Gilbert, 25, a bronze medallist in the 4 x 100-m relay at the 1993 World Track and Field Championships, should help. Their four-man team also includes Sheridon Baptiste, 29, and Chris Farstad, 24. In Lillehammer, medals will be awarded based on cumulative times in four heats. “Even one mistake can cost you,” says Lori. ‘We need four good, consistent runs driving and four consistent starts.”

Like many of his bobsledding rivals, Lueders was once a track-and-field athlete—mostly throwing discus, shot put and javelin. But in 1989, he was visiting relatives in the former East Germany—a bobsledding powerhouse—when a cousin who follows the winter sport as a journalist convinced him to try it. “He told me I’d never be world-class in track,” says Lueders. “But he said that I had what it takes to make a good bobsledder”—speed and strength. Lueders started out as a crewman. “But I like to control my own destiny,” he says. In 1990, he began driving, and rose quickly through the junior ranks. Now, with 26-year-old Dave MacEachem pushing in the two-man, he has the fastest starts on the World Cup circuit. In the four-man, they will be joined by Pascal Caron and Jack Pyc, both 21.

Whatever his result in Iillehammer, Lueders expects to keep sledding. “It would be really neat,” he muses, “to do the first Olympics in the 21st century.” Lori, on the other hand, says that there is only a 50-per-cent chance he will be back next year. The veteran competitor is the national spokesman for Halls cough drops. As part of his sponsorship deal, Lori gives speeches to Halls staff about his racing experiences. “It’s a lot of fun,” he says. “But I wouldn’t mind ending the story in a different way than I end it now. A fourth place at Albertville is not really going out with a bang.” If Lori could exit Olympic competition—and Lueders enter it—with equally resounding successes, the daring duo could rewrite Canadian bobsledding history.

MARY NEMETH