Sask. bobsledder revives Olympic bronze medal through fans’ eyes

Canada’s last hopes for an Olympic medal peaked on the final day of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

The four-man bobsleigh team pilot Justin Kripps and brakemen Ben Coakwell, Cam Stones and Ryan Sommer were more than 4/10 seconds behind Germany by three laps on Sunday.

They will need a clean fourth round to claim bronze.

“As we went down the track, my head was down. I don’t know what happened,” said Coakwell, who was born in Saskatchewan.

“All I can see is when we cross the finish line, the pending number 1 shows up on time. That’s what you’re looking for.”

And that’s what they got: the medal winner’s run ended 6/100 seconds faster than Germany’s.

“When I watched it myself I was like, ‘this is so ridiculous’ – like, how close is this, the pressure we put on people,” Coakwell said.

“It’s just… it’s a strange thing to see you win a medal.”

VIEW | Ben Coakwell and Team Kripps compete for the 4-man bobsleigh medal:

Justin Kripps leads Canada to an Olympic bronze medal in a 4-man sled

2018 Olympic champion pilot in a two-person sled, Justin Kripps of Summerland, BC, wins a bronze medal in the two-man sled event in Beijing 2022. 4:36

Canada’s 3rd medal in a 4 person sled

Coakwell, who was born in Regina and has also lived in Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, is now a three-time Olympian in a four-man bobsleigh.

Prior to trying the sport in 2012, Coakwell was a track and field athlete for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

Speaking from his home in Calgary Tuesday, bronze medal around his neck, Coakwell said the previous 48 hours had been “crazy.”

“Travelling through the airport, I put on my medal and people came up to me and congratulated me. A guy bought me a Starbucks gift card,” he said.

Coakwell said he asked many of those people if they watched the race live, and if they did, how they felt at the time.

“Hearing people’s stories about watching the races is the coolest part, because that’s why you win things – to share them with people,” he said.

“Seeing people’s faces light up, like talking about how close it was and how they were screaming on TV – and I’ve seen the videos – that’s like, that’s part of what makes it so awesome.”

The win marked Canada’s first four-man medal since Lyndon Rush rode his sled to bronze in Vancouver in 2010. The last win was only Canada’s third Olympic medal in the event.

Saskatchewan-born Ben Coakwell shows off his bronze medal in a four-person sled from the Beijing 2022 Olympics from his home in Calgary during a video call with CBC News on Feb. 22. (CBC)

Kripps made his own history as the first Canadian pilot to win Olympic medals in the twos and fours. This bronze will join the gold from the 2018 Olympic two-man race in its trophy case.

“That race [on Sunday] in particular is an accurate depiction of how our team is,” said Coakwell.

“Pushing fast for your last run is something you always want to do and it … shows the heart of your team. And then obviously, Justin drove really well, and then we made time at the bottom of the track.”

The knowledgeable athlete was the brakes for Team Kripps at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but his sleigh overturned on the track in the first lap. Coakwell was not medically allowed to continue.

In his second Olympic appearance in Pyeongchang 2018, Coakwell slid to 12th place as a four-man crew member with pilot Nick Poloniato.

The Kripps crew embraced each other after the fourth series, which secured their place on the podium. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

Another challenge for bobsledders: appearing last on the Olympic schedule.

“It’s a difficult thing to race on the last day because you have to see other people, you know, compete and succeed or not,” he said. “It can be an emotional roller-coaster.”

Coakwell is now focused on sleeping and adjusting to standard mountain time before celebrating the win with friends and family.

He added that the team would need time to decide what to do next, including a possible run at the 2023 IBSF World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Coakwell is also considering potential training opportunities with Bobsleigh Canada, when the time is right.

Jackson Wintringham

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