The title of Olympic Champion is an honour, but not always the easiest title to settle into.
For bobsleigh pilot Justin Kripps, he not only walked away with Olympic gold in two-man bobsleigh at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, but the humble 31-year-old, along with his brakeman Alex Kopacz, also made history – tying with the German team right down to the hundredth of a second. A feat that seems almost impossible yet had previously happened 20 years prior during the Nagano 1998 Winter Games. Sometimes history repeats itself in the most glorious way possible.
“Coming down the track, when you cross that line, you don’t see your time. You just see number 1”, explained Justin, “So we had no idea we had tied. We thought it was so cool that the Germans were so happy for us, then we realized that the party on the track was because we had tied with them.”
A pretty epic way to finish his year, Justin is still getting used to everything that comes with being a gold medallist. Growing up between the tropical jungles of Hawaii and the beautiful orchards of Summerland, British Columbia, who knew the kid who lived for the warm, outdoors would end up dominating the icy track of bobsleigh.
Justin started his athletic career in track, a totally natural progression from running around the cherry trees as a child in the Okanagan. He fondly remembers watching Donovan Bailey winning gold in 1996 and that planted the Olympic dream in his head. As his abilities progressed, he played on the varsity track and field team for Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC which lead to him being scouted to join bobsleigh. His speed and strength in track made him an ideal candidate to pursue the sport. Not exactly a Summer Olympic sport, but the Olympic dream was definitely still there.
RELATED: A moment with Justin Kripps
Starting off as a brakeman for the first three seasons of his career, including the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, Pierre Lueders took notice of his abilities and started training him to be a pilot. Justin made his Olympic pilot debut in Sochi 2014 where his four-man sled crashed and brought him to a last place finish. For some athletes, that would kill their love for the sport, but Justin’s determination fuelled him to train even harder and use that experience as a teaching point in his career. His strength in character in the face of adversity propelled him to where he is today.
Bobsleigh, like all high-performance sports, costs a great deal of money to take part in. To prepare for PyeongChang, Justin put close to $30,000 just into runners for his sled alone. The only way that was possible was thanks to generous donations from sponsors and Canadians like you. Equipment is crucial in bobsleigh. Being a high-performance athlete is one thing, but it’s not enough in the sport of bobsleigh. There is no coincidence that the athletes who are winning and dominating bobsleigh have everything in place – top of the line equipment, strong knowledge and world-class coaching. All of these things Canada is trying to achieve with their bobsleigh team but lack the funds they need to do so.
Along with the cost of sport, having the support of your friends and family is a huge part of being an athlete. Not everyone’s parents would be supportive of their kids hurling down an ice track at over 150km/h in a glorified wooden barrel on skates. Justin is lucky enough to have a family that fully supports him in anything that he does.
“My mom told me from a young age to just ‘do what makes you happy’ and I try and live that way. My mom was the first person I saw in the crowd after I won. Having her there and seeing how happy she was and that she could celebrate this with me was unreal.”
Along with his parents he also credits the support of his coach for two years, Pierre Lueders, Pilot coach Lynden Rush and his all of his teammates.
Speaking of his teammates, they describe Justin as stoic, cool, calm and collected. His mental clarity on the track is focused and his outlook to the future is bright, as training will start up in May looking towards Beijing in 2022.
Justin isn’t letting the title “reigning Olympic Champion” go to his head though. He understands that with this type of glory also comes high expectations for the next round of races, but his strong focus, easy-going attitude and attention to detail allows him to zone in on what matters most and make new goals for himself and his teammates. The entire Canadian bobsleigh team is very close and a win for one team is a win for the entire team. So, the next goal is to work even harder, as a team, to dominate the podium come 2022.