KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Chris Spring walked out of the finish area at the Sanki Sliding Center, flashed his trademark grin and greeted some familiar faces.
His eyes told another story.
While brakeman Jesse Lumsden spoke to reporters about their disappointing finish in the two-man bobsled at the Sochi Games, Spring cast a glance at the big screen beside him.
He watched as Russia’s Alexander Zubkov finished his gold-medal run as the home crowd roared its approval. Spring’s eyes moistened a little as he took in the celebration, the sound of cheering fans, cowbells and kazoos ringing in his ears.
When Spring took a few questions, the emotion of the moment quickly took hold of him. He thought about his result, the competition and the atmosphere.
He thought about the other Canadian sleds that missed out on the podium. He also thought about the horrific crash in Germany two years ago that sent him and two of his teammates to hospital with serious injuries.
It’s something he thinks about every day. It comes to mind when he’s at the top of the track and again when he gets out of the sled at the bottom.
“I definitely draw on the confidence of my team to help me get through it a lot of the time,” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks. “Just the visuals, the sounds, everything like that. Even just talking about it now gets me pretty upset. It’s something that has helped me a lot too in a way.
“I nearly died that day. You have to appreciate life a lot more after something like that.”
Spring, from Calgary, and Lumsden, from Burlington, Ont., finished seventh in the Canada 2 sled on Monday night.
The Canada 3 sled of Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C., and Bryan Barnett of Edmonton fell two spots in the final run and took sixth. Lyndon Rush of Sylvan Lake, and Lascelles Brown of Calgary in Canada 1 were ninth.
Swiss pilot Beat Hefti took the silver and American Steven Holcomb won bronze.
Spring was doing his best to look at the positives from his Olympic experience, even if he came up short on this night. He’ll get another crack at a medal in the four-man event Sunday.
“Maybe that’s why I’m so emotional right now,” he said. “I get to represent Canada at an Olympic Games. To do that just two years after nearly giving up the sport and nearly not making it through a crash, it’s pretty amazing I guess.
“I hope that I can have more moments like this. Maybe next time I’ll be on the podium.”
Of the three Canadian sleds, Kripps had the best shot at a medal entering the final two runs. He was in fourth place after the first two runs Sunday and was less than one-10th of a second behind the third-place duo.
Kripps had a decent opening run Monday but struggled in the finale. With three big guns ahead of him in the standings, he didn’t hold anything back and attacked the track with all he had.
It led to a few mistakes, but he felt it was the way to go.
“Fourth to me is the same as sixth,” he said. “I wanted to get a medal so we risked it, you know. We wanted to go for it and came sixth. Still, it’s one of our best finishes on the world stage so no regrets out there.”
The frustration was evident at the finish. Kripps folded his arms and tilted his head back before getting out of his sled.
“That was really hard to watch because he had a real shot at a medal,” Spring said. “Everyone was pulling for him. We’re a really close team and everyone wishes everyone the best. I’m sure Justin will regroup and we’ll all show the world what we can do next (Sunday) in four-man.”
There was no topping Zubkov on this day. He opened the third heat by trimming nearly two-10ths of a second off the track record he set a day earlier.
The Russian pilot moved well ahead entering the final run while the rest of the top 10 essentially stayed in the same order. Kripps fell one-100th of a second behind Holcomb and would get no closer.
The 17-curve course has not been kind to the Canadians so far at the Games. The national luge team was a good bet to win at least one medal but had to settle for three fourth-place finishes.
The intensity is all around at the venue. The athletes often grunt and slap the side of the sled to get amped up before they begin.
One look at their chiselled bodies leaves the impression they could push a truck out of a ditch.
The small viewing areas are packed with rabid, flag-waving fans who love their sliding sports. There’s room for a couple hundred spectators in the finish area.
The sled sounds like an old wooden roller coaster as it barrels down the track. Throw in a couple athletes built like football players and you’ve got an ice rocket that reaches speeds of 150 km/h.
The four-man event should be just as exciting. Lumsden, for one, can’t wait to get back at it.
“We’ve got two other horses in the stable that are just friggin’ foaming at the mouth ready to go now,” he said.