KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Canadian pilot Justin Kripps didn’t want a crash to be his last memory from the four-man bobsled competition at the Sochi Olympics.
He returned to the Sanki Sliding Center on Sunday to put one last run down and leave the Games on a better note. Kripps did just that with a strong run that helped erase the memory of a night earlier.
“It was a sweet ending to our Olympics,” Kripps said.
His time of 55.72 seconds was impressive considering the ice conditions are most challenging when you’re the last crew in a 30-sled field. Kripps was ecstatic in the finish area, raising both arms in the air and pumping his fists.
Kripps knew that he wouldn’t make the cut for the final run but wanted to finish strong and give spares Luke Demetre of Halifax and Calgary’s Graeme Rinholm a chance to compete at the Games.
“Kripps didn’t have to come and ride here today,” said coach Tom De La Hunty. “He did it to get back on the horse is one reason. The other reason, the main reason, is he did it for those two guys.”
The Canadians escaped serious injury Saturday night when their sled turned on its side and slid down the final few turns of the track and to the finish. Kripps, from Summerland, B.C., and Jesse Lumsden of Burlington, Ont., were a little banged up but were medically cleared to compete on the final day.
Ottawa’s Cody Sorensen suffered a mild concussion and Saskatoon’s Ben Coakwell has a stiff neck and a shoulder injury, De La Hunty said.
Kripps blamed a “tiny little skid” that he didn’t even feel as he approached Turn 14.
“I came out of the previous corner and I thought we were straight and good,” he said. “I was patting myself on the back and getting ready to do my steers for the next corner and then my face was on the ice.
“And then it gets really loud and really uncomfortable and you start smashing your head on walls and stuff. It’s not good.”
The crash inflated the Canada 3 sled’s time and left it in last place in the 30-sled field. The top 20 sleds made the cut for the fourth and final run.
Russia’s Alexander Zubkov won gold with a four-run time of three minutes 40.60 seconds. Latvia’s Oskars Melbardis took silver in 3:40.69 and American Steven Holcomb won bronze in 3:40.99.
Canada 2 pilot Lyndon Rush of Sylvan Lake, was ninth in 3:41.76 and Calgary’s Chris Spring guided the Canada 1 sled to a 13th-place finish in 3:42.84.
The day capped a disappointing and rather tumultuous week for the Canadian men’s team. Canada was shut out of the medals in both two-man and four-man events and a late lineup change left Spring fuming.
Canadian team officials switched his crew on the eve of the competition to give Kripps the strongest possible team behind him. With Spring struggling and Kripps in the best form, the team pushed all in to try to get one sled to the four-man podium.
De La Hunty said it was the right call.
“(Kripps) was in second place when he crashed yesterday and definitely if he’d finished, he would have been probably third going to bed last night,” he said. “That didn’t happen so we can’t claim that, but I can certainly claim that what we did as a team by changing things around was the right thing to do.
“In any performance-based sport, that’s what we do. Tough decisions but you’ve got to get over it and get on with it.”
Lumsden, who pushed Spring in several races this season, agreed that the team officials made the right call.
“We were close (to the lead) and then lightning struck and it happens,” he said. “It wasn’t Justin’s fault, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was just an (unfortunate) situation.”
Kripps was coming off a World Cup two-man victory last month, had the top result in the two-man event here and had the most impressive runs in training. Spring, meanwhile, did not take the news of his demotion well.
His frustration was evident and he was visibly upset after the competition.
“We really expected the support of our coaching staff,” Spring said.
“They didn’t have the belief in me at the end of the day here and maybe that’s something we can reconcile here. But I need some time, man. It cuts me real deep what those guys did.
“You can forgive people because everyone makes mistakes, but I’ll never forget that my Olympic dream was taken away from me here.”
Spring, who competed for Australia at the 2010 Vancouver Games, became a Canadian citizen last year. The dual citizen said he was proud to compete for Canada and plans to continue with the program.
It was a challenging Games for Canada in the sliding sports.
Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse won the lone Canadian medal on the Sanki track this week. They successfully defended their Olympic title in the women’s bobsled race.
The skeleton team was kept off the podium and the luge team settled for three fourth-place finishes.