German gold rush in bobsleigh… but Canadians share in the glory

Germany’s Francesco Friedrich won gold in both the two-man and four-man bobsleigh events at PyeongChang 2018, though had to share the former with Canada’s Justin Kripps after the two posted identical times. Meanwhile Olympic debutant Mariama Jamanka won the two-woman event, as the Germans swept the board at the Alpensia Sliding Centre.

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Joint champions in the two-man bob

Oskars Melbardis and Janis Strenga made the early running as the two-man event got under way on 18 February. The Latvians were fastest on the first run, before Germany’s Nico Walther and Christian Poser took control on the second.

At the halfway stage of the competition, the German duo led by a tenth of a second from Canada’s Kripps and Alexander Kopacz, and by 0.19 seconds from compatriots Johannes Lochner and Christopher Weber. Melbardis and Strenga were a further 0.4 seconds behind, with Friedrich and Thorsten Margis down in fifth, 0.29 seconds off the leaders.

The third run saw the leading contenders bunch up even more tightly, with Kripps taking the lead in the competition and only 0.13 seconds separating him from the four drivers behind him: Friedrich, Lochner, Melbardis and Walther. Ominously, reigning four-time two-man world champion Friedrich went fastest on that third run, setting a new track record of 48.86 seconds.

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Republic of Korea driver Won Yu-jong had the home fans cheering when he took the lead with five crews still to go in the fourth and final run. Walther’s medal hopes then vanished when he committed a mistake too many on his final descent, while Melbardis clocked a time of 49.21 seconds to take over at the top of the leaderboard, with just Friedrich and Kripps to come.

Friedrich’s time of 49.22 seconds kept him ahead of the Latvian and in firm contention for gold. Remarkably, Kripps then stopped the clock on 49.28 seconds to post the exact same overall time as his German rival: three minutes, 16.86 seconds, with Melbardis just 0.05 seconds behind them in bronze.

It was the second time that the gold in the two-man bob had been shared, after Italy’s Günther Huber and Canada’s Pierre Lueders tied for first place at Nagano 1998.

“I love the Games and I hope this race shows the world what the Olympic spirit is all about,” said Margis after he and Friedrich had happily shared the top of the podium with Kripps and Kopacz. “It’s great to share the gold with these boys. I like them a lot. They’ve had a great season and I think we all deserve this result.”

Jamanka’s golden debut

A former hammer and discus thrower, Germany’s Jamanka made quite an impression on her Olympic Winter Games debut, teaming up with Buckwitz to win the two-woman competition by 0.07 seconds from the USA’s Elana Meyers Taylor, the reigning world champion. It was Germany’s first medal in the event since Turin 2006. Canada’s Kaillie Humphries, the two-time defending champion, won the bronze, having started day two of the competition in fifth.

The 2017 European champion, Jamanka had led the competition by the same 0.07-second margin overnight. She then saw Meyers Taylor – who also won silver at Sochi 2014 and bronze in Vancouver four years earlier – reduce her advantage by three hundredths of a second on run three. The German then went quicker by the same margin on the final run to clinch gold.

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“I can’t really describe my emotions, it doesn’t feel real,” said Jamanka, who went without a win in the 2017/18 World Cup season. “I’m so happy that all the work paid off because it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for me to start out as a driver and we’ve also had some changes in the team this last year. I’m so glad we managed to get here.”

“We have the gold and it was such an amazing race,” added team-mate Buckwitz. “We didn’t start so well and Mariama did it all on the track. I’m lost for words and it’s so amazing. I bet my mum is sitting at home and crying.

Humphries’ bronze put her out on her own as the most successful women’s bobsleigher in Olympic history. “This is probably my most emotional medal,” said the Canadian.

Friedrich’s golden double

Friedrich followed up his victory in the two-man event by successfully defending his four-man title, and this time there was no sharing of the spoils. Partnered by Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Margis, the 27-year-old never set a new track record of 48.54 seconds in the first run, and that set the tone for a dominant display.

Fastest again in the next two descents, Friedrich went third-quickest on the final run to post an overall time of three minutes, 15.85 seconds and cruise to gold.

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Remarkably, for the second time in the bobsleigh at PyeongChang 2018, there was a tie for the medal placings, as Germany’s Walther (joined by Kevin Kuske, Alexander Roediger and Eric Franke) and the Republic of Korea’s Won Yun-jong (partnered by Jun Jung-lin, Seo Young-woo and Kim Dong-hyun) both clocked three minutes, 16.38 seconds to share the silver.

“We’ve had some really tough weeks,” said Friedrich. “We’ve had to work a lot on the sled and a lot with our lines. I can’t believe that we did it after such a tough time. I’m so proud of Germany’s results in all the sliding events.”

“I couldn’t believe it. It was just a dream for me and I’m so happy with the results.” said Won after picking up his country’s first Olympic bobsleigh medal.