Four-Time Olympic Bobsleigh Pilot Chris Spring Slides into Retirement
CALGARY—One of the most respected bobsleigh pilots on the international circuit, Chris Spring, will park his sled after a storybook career spanning nearly two decades that was highlighted by four trips to the Olympic Winter Games and nine World Cup medals.
“I’m still so very passionate about bobsleigh. I never knew that I could love a sport so much. The hype with the team and pushing that sled off the line, coupled with driving a bobsleigh and manipulating it to achieve the exact line, gave me a feeling that I often wonder if I will ever find somewhere else in life,” said Spring. “That feeling was like an addiction for me, and perhaps the reason why I stayed in the sport so long. However, the time has come to follow many other passions I have in life. I leave with fond memories, great battles and lifelong friends. For that, I’m thankful, and I’m grateful to have the support of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, my teammates and coaches along the way.”
Originally from Australia, the bobsleigh journey for the now 39-year-old began in 2007 watching the Canadian Championships while living and working in Calgary. He was immediately hooked on the sport and took a driving school the following year to learn the fundamentals of the sled. With a new-found Olympic dream sparked, Spring quickly worked his way through the development circuits, and competed for Australia at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, before competing full time on the Canadian National Bobsleigh Team 2011.
Surrounded by family, friends and teammates, the cheerful pilot received his Canadian citizenship on Canada Day in 2013, providing him the opportunity to drive two- and four-man bobsleighs decaled with the maple leaf at the 2014, 2018 and 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
“When I first became a permanent resident and started representing Canada, I immediately felt an incredible sense of pride, but to get that citizenship and to know I’m going to be a Canadian for life, part of such an amazing culture and competing internationally for the true north, strong and free is indescribable. I enjoyed nothing more throughout my career than singing O’ Canada with my teammates.”
Spring’s journey in Canadian colours had more twists, turns and challenges than most of the tracks he drove around the world. The 2011-12 season was to be his first full year on the World Cup circuit. A regular top-10 finisher in the first half, his season came to an abrupt end in January when he lost control of his four-man sled during a training run on the technically demanding track in Altenberg, Germany. Spring sustained a major puncture wound to his buttocks and upper leg area from debris that came through the bottom of the sled. He was airlifted to hospital in Dresden where he received 18 staples to close the wound and remained there for eight days.
Forty days later, he was back in a sled, piloting his sled in a re-affirming run down the track in Calgary. The first to go down with him was legendary Canadian pilot, Pierre Lueders, giving him the trust, confidence and support he needed to return to the elite international start line.
Once questioning if he would ever slide again, his determination paid off.
Just 10 months after laying in hospital bed following his horrific crash, Spring and his four-man crew of rookies were whooping it up on the finish dock of the Whistler Sliding Centre having put a dazzling capper on a comeback journey by winning his first career World Cup bronze medal.
“Having the privilege to work with Chris as a teammate, coach and high-performance director, I witnessed the power that Chris’ drive for excellence and the supportive team environment he created had on everyone around him in the Daily Training Environment,” said Chris Le Bihan, high-performance director, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton. “Chris proved you can be a tough as nails competitor while still bringing an infectious, fun and social personality to the sport that brought the best out of teammates and competitors alike all while pushing himself, and those around him, towards achieving their performance goals at the highest level. The absence of his positive attitude, friendliness, openness, along with his pure grit and determination will leave a big hole not only on our team but also on the international bobsleigh circuit.”
Conversation, camaraderie and friendship helped him not only soldier on, but be a part of one of the most successful eras in Canadian bobsleigh where both men’s and women’s sleds were fighting for medals each week.
He backed up his third-place triumph in the Whistler four-man race with his first World Cup two-man podium in Calgary to kick off the 2013-14 season with Jesse Lumsden. His long-awaited World Cup victory finally arrived in the two-man sled with Lascelles Brown in 2016 – once again in Whistler – where he now calls home.
Pushed throughout his career by some of the greatest brakeman in the sport including Brown, Lumsden, Neville Wright, Ben Coakwell, Cam Stones, Cody Sorensen, Sam Giguere, Seyi Smith, Alex Kopacz, Bryan Barnett and many others, Spring went on to win two gold, one silver and six bronze medals on the World Cup. He also won a Crystal Globe in 2018 for finishing third in the overall two-man standings – the same year Justin Kripps was first, solidifying Canada’s dominance in the sport.
“Spring is a great competitor and teammate. He always lifts up those around him and brings out the best in everyone. The way he could bring together a team to work hard towards a common goal was an inspiration to me and something I learned from him as we competed for many years together,” said Kripps, a two-time Olympic medallist, who is now part of the Canadian coaching staff. “While we battled fiercely against each other at times, we made a point to always put Canada first and work together to elevate each other so we could succeed against the best in the world. I’ll miss figuring out tracks together and trying out new lines with you Springer. Congrats on an amazing career, and welcome to the retired life!”
Spring’s final three trips to an international podium may be the most special of all. On the ninth anniversary of his horrific crash, Team Spring won a complete set of medals at the 2021 Europe Cup in Altenberg, Germany. While the multiple World Cup medallist had competed on the track many times since his crash, it was the first time he had been in Altenberg on the anniversary.
Leaning on the support of his teammates and international competitors to get him through the emotional week, Team Spring took the four-man gold, along with a silver and bronze in two-man action.
“What happened in Altenberg was something I don’t wish upon anyone. It was a real struggle, something that I struggled with every day of my career. I never hid that. I talked about it with a lot of people,” said Spring, who added that many of the top German pilots helped him conquer the past by providing him advice on how to commandeer the 17-corner chute that weekend.
“For a long time, I battled with dealing with that crash and getting over it, but I got to a place where I welcomed the fear that crept in every now and again to remind myself that what we’re doing here is dangerous, but also very special. I always believed we could come back and win there, but when it happened, it was a really special moment. I learned a great life lesson that week. If you just keep going, keep showing up, be patient, endure and believe, then you can still surprise yourself even at my age.”
While Spring admittedly parks his sled for a final time without achieving all of his bobsleigh goals, his journey off the track is well underway. He took the 2019 season off to give his body a rest and chase a passion to fly airplanes. He will continue building his career in the aviation industry where he currently flies seaplanes on Canada’s West Coast.
Additionally, he will begin doing the necessary work to achieve his coaching education certification while giving back to the next generation of Canadians who have similar dreams of piloting bobsleighs at the Olympic Winter Games. Working at the Whistler Sliding Centre, Spring will have mentorship opportunities with Canadian bobsleigh coaches while he takes on a coaching role of his own to support young athletes in their quest to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games.
“I hope my story, and journey, is proof to others that you can create your own path. No matter what it is you decide in life, there’s lots of time later in life to do whatever it is you want to do. I finished my commercial pilot’s license at 37. I didn’t have that dream when I left high school. I just loved sports and I chased that dream and got everything out of it that I could,” said Spring. “Now I’m chasing this passion to fly and coach.
“I am ready to move onto this next stage in my career, and I am doing it with so many memories that bobsleigh has given me. I’ll never forget the day-to-day lives we live as teammates and competitors while on Tour. From driving through the Swiss Alps to digging out vehicles and putting on tire chains in snowstorms, to lifting and working on sleds and standing on the podium wrapped in a Canadian flag with my team – that is how I’ll remember my time in the sport.”
Bobsleigh CANADA Skeleton is a non-profit organization and the national governing body for the sports of bobsleigh and skeleton in Canada. With the support of its valued corporate partners – Karbon and Joe Rocket Canada – along with the Government of Canada, Own the Podium and the Canadian Olympic Committee, Bobsleigh CANADA Skeleton develops Olympic and world champions. Please visit us at www.bobsleighcanadaskeleton.ca.