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Canadians top podium of the unexpected in women's bobsled


WHISTLER, British Columbia -- If there were to be a bobsled episode of The Twilight Zone, the final two runs of the women's bobsled at the Whistler Sliding Centre Wednesday night would do well as inspiration: Canada, which had zero prior medals in women's bobsled, took gold and silver; the Germans, who had nabbed three of the six medals awarded at the two prior Games that had women's bobsled, went missing from the podium; the USA 2 sled ended up not only as the top American sled, but the third best in the world; and one of the world's best technical drivers crashed herself out of contention.

Despite the much-ballyhooed advantage the Canadian sliders were supposed to have in sliding sports because of their increased training time, Canada had only won one medal at the Sliding Centre prior to Wednesday, a gold in men's skeleton.

But bobsled pilot Kaillie Humphries and her brakewoman Heather Moyse added another gold in spectacular fashion. Each of their first three (of four) runs set a new track record en route to winning by a total of 0.85 seconds over the second place sled, piloted by countrywoman Helen Upperton. "I don't know how Canada feels," Humphries said, "but I know how I feel, and it's pretty exciting." Judging by the sustained cheering and clanging cowbells from home fans, it's safe to assume that Humphries has at least a slight idea of how Canada feels, and it's the opposite of how the German fans were feeling.

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German driver Sandra Kiriasis, the defending Olympic champion and the most decorated female bobsledder of all time was simply mediocre. She spent nearly the entire competition in fourth place, and had little explanation beyond the candidly translated quote, "I (expletive) up."

Cathleen Martini, one of the best technical drivers in the world and pilot of Germany 2, the third ranked sled in the world, flipped over on curve 13 of her final run and didn't finish the race. Her brakewoman Romy Logsch was thrown from the back of the sled, but neither athlete was hurt.

Meanwhile, the United States' Erin Pac, a relatively inexperienced driver who pilots, with brakewoman Elana Meyers, USA 2 -- so called because it's supposed to be the second best U.S. sled -- was in the silver medal spot most of the competition and slipped to bronze on the last run.

Despite being in only her fourth season as a driver -- Pac was a heptathlete at Springfield College in Massachusetts in 2002 when she went to a tryout for bobsled pushers -- Pac has managed to bounce off the walls of the tricky curve 11-12-13 sequence at the speedy Whistler track a little less than her competitors. Pac's first-ever World Cup medal, a bronze, came at the Whistler track last year. "I definitely enjoy the track," Pac said, "but it scares the crap out of me, too."

USA 1 driver Shauna Rohbock, who won silver in '06, finished 6th, and was similar to Kiriasis -- though somewhat more delicate -- in her inability to explain what went wrong. "I just didn't put together the runs to be on the podium," she said.