Charting the Rise of Bobsleigh in Canada
Canadian bobsleigh experienced watershed moments at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Three medals were captured in a sport historically dominated by European countries.
On the women’s side Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse won gold while teammates Helen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown captured silver. These were the first two Canadian medals ever in women’s bobsleigh. In the men’s four-man event, Lyndon Rush piloted the sled to a bronze medal, Canada’s first medal in the event in 46 years. Canadian legend Pierre Lueders, in his final Olympic run, finished a solid fifth in both the two- and four-man events.
In all, a huge sledding success in 2010, especially when you also consider Jon Montgomery’s gold in skeleton. Yet Canada’s rise to the top of the bobsleigh world may not have happened but for events in the 1990s. There is always a path that leads to success, and here is a glimpse down that path.
Wading through recent history is Dave MacEachern, three-time Olympian and 1998 gold medallist in two-man with Lueders, who spoke to Olympic.ca.
Canada’s modern movement in bobsleigh began in 1989 when Chris Lori’s four-man crew won the overall World Cup title – a first for Canada. The same year, pilot Greg Haydenluck was second overall in two-man. This came a year after the Calgary Games, for which was built Canada’s first sledding track.
In Albertville at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games, Lori’s four-man crew – MacEachern included – was a breath away from bronze. MacEachern said that near-medal opened the door for more funding for Canadian bobsleigh and raised its profile slightly. But the real momentum was just around the corner.
MacEachern and Lueders partnered to win approximately 20 World Cup medals from 1993 to 1998, and a slew of World Cup titles in two- and four-man. MacEachern said what he and Lueders began in 1993 was the genesis of bobsleigh in Canada, and led to increased funding for what was a low-profile sport.
“I think the entire Canadian sliding program has been leveraged from February 15, 1998,” MacEachern said. That was the day he and Lueders slid to a gold medal in Nagano. “What Pierre and I did was the catalyst for everything we just experienced in Vancouver.”
That 1998 gold medal triggered significant funding into Canadian bobsleigh, and helped capture the imagination of a swath of young athletes. To this day, MacEachern receives messages from athletes thanking him for the inspiration, most recently a young sprinter who had entered the bobsleigh program.
MacEachern credits Lueders’ vision and tenacity for lifting bobsleigh into public view. “I think Pierre’s legacy will be paving the way for everyone else,” he said. “He wasn’t a pioneer, but he was very good at his craft. And he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought.”
And he took a sport with a minimal following and brought some popularity to it. Bobsleigh helped edge to the forefront of winter sports, and now the powerful, explosive athletes are front and centre after a magical 2010 Winter Games.
Those two women’s medals came in only the third Olympic Winter Games since women started competing in bobsleigh. There was also a fourth-place finish in 2006. This signals preparation, hard work and a sport focus that originated with the passion of those who came before.