YANQING, China (Reuters) – Germany’s bobsleigh aces edged ahead in the first act of the four-man event on Saturday, but formidable runs from Justin Kripps’ team kept the Canadians within touching distance going into Sunday’s finale.
The German team behind pilot Johannes Lochner came close to perfection with their first run, but the ‘Ice Kaiser’ Franceso Friedrich and crew came roaring back in their second run on a bitterly cold morning in the Yanqing hills 74 kilometres northwest of Beijing.
Less than a blink of an eye separated them at the half way mark, with Lochner 0.03 seconds behind Friedrich’s time of 1:57.00 after two runs.
Friedrich took gold in the two-man event on Tuesday while Lochner the silver. While they can celebrate as team mates after the race, the teams are rivals until then, both pilots said.
“The first who makes a mistake will be losing some more than one-tenths, or maybe two or three-tenths of a second,” Lochner said after the race.
The crews do not share information despite being on the same team, said Christoph Weber from Lochner’s team.
“That’s the biggest secret in bobsleigh. We’re opponents in the race so we’re not sharing anything.”
Several competitors were more than a match for the Germans in pushing their bobsleighs to speed at the start of the Yanqing track, but nimble piloting and top-notch bobsleigh design saw the Germans gaining momentum on its serpentine bends.
Their closest opponent was Justin Kripps’ Canadian team which powered through two runs with a time of 0.38 seconds to keep the race open.
“It’s pretty tough,” Kripps said.
“They have really good equipment, they’re pretty fast today. Good starts from Friedrich, we’re right there with Lochner, but he has really good speed down the track.”
Kripps has matched the dominant Germans before – tying with Friedrich for gold in the two-man in Pyeongchang four years ago, but had been off the pace for that event’s sequel on Tuesday.
Kripps said he would not be overthinking things before the finale. “I’ll spend two minutes, one minute for each run. I’ll talk about it for 25 seconds after that. There’s not going to be a lot to talk about today, it was pretty good.”
But with Christoph Hafer just behind him in fourth, a second German medal sweep is still on the cards.
Germany took three bobsleigh golds in Pyeongchang four years ago. With two German bobsleighs leading the two-woman event at the half-way event on Friday, they look poised to repeat that haul again.
Pilot Brad Hall and his team was looking set to deliver Britain’s best sliding showing this Olympics and Britain’s best four-man performance in the 21st century, with the team in sixth place at the halfway point.
“Couple of mistakes on the first run,” Hall said. “It wasn’t a bad performance. Sitting in sixth place, I’m quite content with that.”
Britain’s team was also content with how much it had managed to prepare for the race, given their limitations compared to some of the countries with several bobsleighs competing.
“When you’re looking at competing against the Germans, there’s three of them,” Hall said.
“They’ve got three times the amount of runs to test everything, find the best way down the track and what best equipment works as well.”
(Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Himani Sarkar)