By JOSHUA CLIPPERTON
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Saturday, February 17, 2018
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA -- Canadian bobsled pilot Justin Kripps spent the early part of his childhood about as far away from an icy track as you can possibly get.
The son of UNICEF workers, Kripps was born in Hawaii and took full advantage of what the tropical island paradise had to offer.
"We were fairly isolated," he recalled. "Our typical days were just running around in the jungle.
"One of the things I really loved about that time is if we got hungry we would just pick something off the tree and eat it."
Heading into his third Olympics - and second as a bobsled pilot - Kripps is looking to devour the competition at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
The soft-spoken 31-year-old, who split time between Hawaii and Summerland, B.C., with his family before relocating permanently to the town on the shores of Okanagan Lake in the province's interior for high school, is in peak form after a banner World Cup campaign.
Kripps won a gold, three silvers and a bronze in two-man bobsleigh to claim the season's overall title, never finishing lower than fourth in the circuit's eight races. And he was just outside the top-three in the fourman standings, grabbing second twice and fourth on three other occasions, to claim the combined two- and four-man crown.
"It's great timing for Justin," said Canadian bobsled and skeleton high-performance director Chris Le Bihan. "He's at the point in his career where he's had a lot of experience driving.
"It's just fine-tuning things, but that takes a while to be in that position. It's great to see that it's happening now."
Like a number of athletes in a late-entry sport such as bobsleigh, Kripps ran track at university before getting recruited to try out for the national team in 2006.
"It turns out I don't really hate winter so much," he joked.
A brakeman in Pierre Lueders's four-man sled that finished fifth at the 2010 Olympics in Whistler, B.C., Kripps decided to give piloting a try the following summer.
He won his first World Cup race in 2014 and wound up sixth in the two-man at the Sochi Games less than a month later in Canada's third sled. That surprising result prompted team officials to shuffle the setup for the four-man and give Kripps some of the program's better pushers.
But their hopes for a podium didn't last long after he crashed in the second heat and finished at the bottom of the standings.
The late switch, which left a number of teammates bewildered, including fellow pilot Chris Spring, was a lesson the detail-oriented Kripps will remember when he begins his quest for an Olympic medal Sunday in the South Korean mountains.
"Your ticket is not punched until you're in the sled going down the track," he said. "Things can change right down to the last minute."
Kripps won silver in two-man at the 2017 world championships with brakeman Jesse Lumsden, who was also in the 2010 fourman sled. But Lumsden, the former CFL player from Burlington, Ont., who is also at his third Olympics, split time pushing for Kripps with Alex Kopacz of London, Ont., over the course of the most recent World Cup schedule.
Kopacz is set to be the brakeman for Kripps in both the twoand four-man in Pyeongchang.
Lumsden will be the horsepower for Hamilton's Nick Poloniato in Canada's third sled in the twoman, but will join Kripps, Kopacz and Ottawa's Seyi Smith, a sprinter at the 2012 London Games, in the four.
"What I think works with Justin is that he's very calm, cool, collected - very even-keel," said Lumsden, a brakeman for Kripps in six of eight World Cup fourman races this season. "Stoic in many ways, which is great for a bobsled pilot."
"I don't do pump-up speeches," Kripps said. "I find my power is in knowing everything is in place for us to do well and just being extremely focused."
Canada has left nothing to chance in the leadup to the 2018 Games, even enrolling Kripps and Spring, the Australian-born Calgary resident who also had a great World Cup season, in golf lessons with the aim of sharpening focus and improving mental toughness.
And the program will be looking for results in Pyeongchang after all six men's sleds failed to reach the Olympic podium in Russia four years ago.
"They've honed their skills over these last eight to 10 years and it's paying off now where they're fine tuning things on the track in their driving," Le Bihan said of Kripps and Spring. "The program is well-developed this year in terms of our equipment, support staff, our coaching staff, mechanics.
"The pressure's higher, but the excitement's also higher and the stakes are higher. The people that really want it will go after it and those are the ones who will win."
Canada's Justin Kripps and Alexander Kopacz take a curve in two-man bobsleigh training in Pyeongchang on Friday.