SOCHI, Russia - While the head coach felt vindicated, there was anger and emotional devastation from bow to stern in one of his bobsleighs.
On Thursday, Tom De La Hunty, the Canadian Olympic sled coach, took Justin Kripps’ three-man crew, which included Burlington’s Tom Randall, and put them behind pilot Chris Spring, and had Spring’s crew, which included Burlington’s Jesse Lumsden, push for Kripps.
His reasoning was that Kripps was driving better than Spring, and he wanted what he felt was a superior crew on Cripps’ Canada-3. When that sled crashed in Saturday’s second heat, they were in a position to finish third or fourth, which De La Hunty said justified the controversial move.
But not necessarily to the four men in Canada-1, which finished 13th.
“Coming to the Olympics is supposed to be one of the greatest moments in an amateur athlete’s life and this is kind of a disappointing way to end it,” said the 27-year-old Randall. “The teams were switched up less than 48 hours out from the race and I think that greatly impacted our results and our team dynamics.
“It was very tough for us to deal with. Having the people who should believe in you the most kind of shut you down and almost tell you you’re not good enough is a very tough pill to swallow.”
Kripps is considered a future star driver and Spring, who had driven well this season, had made mistakes with Lumsden in the two-man event and seemed to be struggling with the Sochi track. After disappointing Canadian results in the four-man training runs, De La Hunty made the move.
While bobsled is a total-team game — nobody roots for their teammates, who are also opponents, more honestly than bobsledders — it was difficult for brakeman Randall and teammates James McNaughton and Bryan Barnett not to feel rejected.
“Exactly,” Randall agreed. “We tried to rally as much as we could and stay positive and make the most of this opportunity because it is, in the end, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we didn’t want to waste it.
“Chris was very emotional a couple of days ago, having everything taken away from him. So we just spent the last 48 hours trying to be as supportive as possible, letting him know that we have his back and that we believe in him either when other people don’t. But, it takes an entire year to build team dynamics and you can’t have expected to get that back in 48 hours.”
Randall had pushed for Spring at the 2011 world championships and was the only member of Spring’s sled not to be injured or require hospitalization when it had the horrific crash in Altenberg, Germany, in January of 2012. The brakeman-pilot familiarity made some difference during the psychologically taxing two days between the decision and first heat here.
“We had a few conversations together and I think I have the ability to calm him down,” said the former Guelph Gryphon running back. “We’ve had some emotional times in the past and I think that helped this time around, for sure.”
Randall was asked if the last four days would affect whether or not he will return to the national program.
“To be honest, it makes you think about it,” he said candidly. “But I’m a pretty competitive person. I can’t see myself losing the hunger to compete. I feel pretty bitter right now but time heals everything and I feel like I’ll get that competitive edge back again and I’ll come back to a positive mindset.
“This experience of going to the Games is definitely something I’ll never forget and I believe I’ll come back to the sport. And I think this experience will make me a better person and a better athlete.”
He’ll return to Burlington this week and after focusing only on his sport, he’ll now “try to set a career in motion.” He’s been a physical trainer, as a hobby, and would eventually like to start his own gym to develop budding international athletes. What he’d like would most would be to get into firefighting but he’s open to other ideas.
“So for anyone who reads this story,” he smiles, “I’m hungry and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”