Canada's Kripps, Kopacz tie Germany for 2-man bobsleigh gold

Pair reach Olympic podium for 1st time

By Amy Cleveland, CBC Sports

Pilot Justin Kripps and brakeman Alexander Kopacz clinched the Canadian duo's first bobsleigh podium at the Olympics, with a gold-medal performance on Monday in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The pair tied the winning four-run time of three minutes 16.86 seconds to share gold with Germany's Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis. Latvia's Oskars Melbardis and Janis Strenga were third in 3:16.91 and earned the bronze medal.

It's the third time the top two sleds have finished in an Olympic two-man race. Canada's Pierre Lueders and Italy shared gold in 1998 — and Italy got the gold over West Germany in 1968, even though both sleds had the same time. The Olympics then utilized a fastest-heat tiebreaker, which gave the Italians the nod.

"I stayed calm throughout the whole thing and focused on my runs," Kripps told Karina LeBlanc of CBC Sports. "I've been working on my mental game since I started driving and coincidentally Pierre Lueders taught me how to drive, which is interesting because he tied for a gold medal 20 years ago. It was just an amazing race."

Third time was the charm for Kripps, of Summerland, B.C., while Kopacz, of London, Ont., made his debut at these Games.

Kripps made his Olympic debut in the four-man bobsleigh as a brakeman for Lueders at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. 

"The whole community supports each other. When people win they are happy and when they lose, we all feel sad together," Kopacz said. "And to share it with such a tenacious team like Friedrich and Thorsten is an honour."

The Canadian duo headed into the fourth and final run 0.06 seconds up on Friedrich, who set a track record of 48.96 seconds in the third heat to leap from fifth to second.

They were slightly behind the Germans in the early part of the fourth run, but quickly picked up speed before crossing in a deadlock time with Friedrich.

"We saw he was one-hundredth in front, two-hundredths in front, three-hundredths in front," Friedrich said. "I thought we would tie or we would get silver. We tied and it was fantastic for us."

Kripps — a Hawaii-born Canadian — was sixth in the discipline with brakeman Bryan Barnett four years ago in Sochi, but they were bumped up to fourth after two Russian pilots were stripped of their results for doping violations. 

The 31-year-old captured silver at the 2017 world championships alongside veteran Jesse Lumsden. Kripps finished no lower than fourth in every two-man race this season and was the World Cup overall champion. 

Lumsden, of Burlington, Ont., and pilot Nick Poloniato, of Hamilton, raced to seventh in 3:17.74.

Canada's third sled, piloted by Christopher Spring, of Priddis, Alta., finished 10th with four-time Olympian from Calgary Lascelles Brown in 3:18.24.

Spring was third in this season's two-man standings, while Poloniato was ninth. 

"Our team really is one team," Kripps said of Canada's other pilots. "The Canadian team really exemplifies teamwork and sportsmanship. We all support each other and the goal really was for a Canadian to get a medal. It happened to be me and the guys are really happy for me."

The Canadian men will compete again in the four-man event beginning Saturday. Kripps will be joined by Lumsden, Kopacz and Seyi Smith, a sprinter who was part of the Canadian 4x100-metre relay team that was disqualified for a lane violation after finishing third at London 2012. Smith is making his Winter Olympic debut in Pyeongchang. 

Kripps finished just outside of the top-3 in the four-man this season, grabbing silver twice. 

Spring and Brown will get veteran reinforcement from Bryan Barnett and Neville Wright. Cam Stones, Josh Kirkpatrick, Ben Coakwell and Poloniato will be Canada's third sled.

Canada's Kaillie Humphries begins her quest for her third straight Olympic title in the women's event with summer Olympian Phylicia George, who competed in the 100-metre hurdles at Rio 2016 and in 2012. The opening runs get underway Tuesday at 6:50 a.m. ET.  

Heather Moyse and Alysia Rissling will comprise Canada's second sled, while Christine de Brun and Melissa Lotholz round out the women's entrants. 

With files from The Canadian Press