The Crash That Brought Us Together

by Jean-Nicolas Carriere on January 14, 2013
This article originally appeared on Jean-Nicolas's personal website.

“And suddenly things went dark, and there was this overwhelming closterphobic sound, like the white noise from a snowy television screen deep inside my helmet reverberating in my brain.”

The first half of the season saw team CAN3 move up the ranks steadily until the last two races before the holidays, where things really took off with a new crew member and a new found team spirit.

Winterberg, Germany was our first European race of the season, and also our first race with teammate Sam Giguere. We had no idea how we were going to perform, especially since it was Sam’s first race of his bobsleigh career, and Kripps had only a limited amount of experience on the Winterberg track. Getting into the sled after our first push I could feel we were going fast, and on the way down I could tell Kripps was tearing it up with some masterful piloting. It’s funny, if you talk to any brakeman and ask him what he thinks of, or what he does during the hellish 60-second descent they will all have very different answers for you. Personally, all I think about is staying low and keeping my head directly in-line with Kripps’. Come race day however, I find myself thinking of the corners and urging on my pilot under the veil of my fog and mucus lined helmet, with things like “yes, Yes, YES!” or “C’mon Push it, Let’s go! Let it run!” At the bottom of the track in corner 14, I knew we were flying! I knew Kripps laid down a heater and midway through these thoughts I remember thinking to myself “Damn, this corner seems longer than normal…” And suddenly things went dark, and there was this overwhelming closterphobic sound, like the white noise from a snowy television screen deep inside my helmet reverberating in my brain. It took me a moment to realize what had just happened, but after a quick second I tuned in to the fact that we had just rolled and crashed out of corner 14.

Its incredible the presence of mind one has when going through such an intense event. So many things are happening in a short amount of time. I think we slid for what must have been 10 seconds, but in that time this is what flashed through my head.

  1. You just crashed pal, tuck your head in.
  2. Oh, you just crashed out of corner 14, you’re near the finish line. This won’t be so bad, you’ll end up by the finish dock.
  3. I hope my mom isn’t watching. She’s gonna be pissed!
  4. Looking at the back of Kripps helmet. I was looking to see if he was ok, and hoping that James sitting behind me had enough room to duck underneath the cowling of the sled.
  5. I’m officially a bobsledder!
  6. We all made it through the finish with the sled… That means we have another run after this!

Trapped inside the sled with our heads pinned against the icy short-wall, there wasn’t much to do but wait for track workers and other athletes or coaches to meet up with us and help us out from underneath the sled. As crashes go, it would probably be considered a 1 on a scale of 1-10, 1 being a baby crash and 10 would be the crash that ended Can2 season last year in Altenberg, hospitalizing 3 athletes. One by one we were helped up to our feet, and together we pushed the sled the rest of the way up the braking stretch to the finish dock. Walking up the braking stretch, we were all busy asking each other if everyone was ok, and the disappointment of knowing our day could well be over after the first run was interrupted by the announcement that we had the 3rd fastest start of the day, and managed to finish our first run in 10th position!

It was an awkward moment as we celebrated and tried to come to grips with the realization of being ranked so high after the 1st run while we dusted the snow off each other, and getting over the adrenaline rush from what had transpired just moments ago. James and Kripps were both good to go, and both had been in crashes before, but Sam and I had both tweaked our backs and I think it took us a little more time to get over the novelty of our first crash. But as any good teams do, we came together and kept each other positive, focusing on a top-10 seat leading into the second heat, trying to put the crash behind us and out of our minds.

We rode the adrenaline rush through the intermission, and got ready to push even faster than our first run. We had nothing to lose. Walking up to the line, we already felt like winners and we were going to show everyone what we were made of. The start clock sounded (When the start clock sounds, a team has 60 seconds to cross the starting laser-eye or the team will be disqualified) and Kripps, myself, James and Sam got ready to unleash all the power and energy of a nuclear bomb into the back of that sled….. but the fuse fizzled out within a matter of seconds when we realized that Kripps couldn’t get the pilot push bar opened up. A piece of rubber that normally prevents the pilot’s push bar from sticking to the sled’s cowling had been lost in the crash and some ice had built up, freezing the push bar shut. Time was ticking down, and with every second, snow was layering thicker and thicker onto the start, decreasing our chances of another great start time. Our mechanic Marc and our coach Graham worked feverishly to pry the push bar open. The intense cheer and clanging of the cowbells that are synonymously found with bobsleigh races had all but disappeared and transformed into gut wrenching quiet mutterings.

My heart started to sink with the realization that we might get disqualified, and as soon as Kripps turned around to tell us we would push without it, Graham and Marc managed to get the push bar out.  We had already gone through so much on that day and I wasn’t going let the crowd whisper as we pushed off, not after what we had gone through to get there, not on this day. And with 16 seconds left on the clock I urged on some acknowledgement from the crowd and they immediately responded with a deafening wall of cheer. Without hesitation, as if nothing had happened Kripps, James, Sam and I all came together and managed to push another blazing start. Now it was up to Kripps to get us quickly down the track. Sitting in the sled on the way down I made sure to tuck my head and tighten my abs as much as possible. The possibility of crashing was evident in my mind as we rushed down the straights and corners of the track, but the confidence I had in Kripps’ abilities overshadowed that train of thought. It seemed like we just kept gaining speed the whole way down. The run was smooth, and I could tell Kripps was letting it run. We came through corner 14 and heard Kripps shout out “breaks”, which meant our day was over. All of it, the crash, the push bar malfunction at the top, my aching neck, we were finally done. As we slowed down and neared the finish dock we saw our teammates waiting at the end of the track holding up their arms signaling 1st position! We managed to hold onto our 10th place position, our best finish of the year. We all jumped out of the sled cheering, fist pumping and high-fiving, it felt like we had won the race. I think we were so happy because after everything that happened we persevered through it all and still managed to place 10th in the world.

On the quiet retrospective ride back to the top of the track, I couldn’t help but feel admiration for each one of my teammates. It felt like we had overcome so much in the last few hours, and given that it was our first time pushing together it felt like the whole ordeal had brought us together. I think it takes a lot of character to bounce back from a crash, to go back up to the top of a track and push lights out one more time, and not only that but to keep your head in the game. I have a lot of respect for the guys on my crew and I couldn’t be more proud to be part of the CAN3 team.

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