Canuck Lyndon Rush knew this track better than anyone

And still he put it in the ditch

Canadian bobsleighNobody knows the Whistler sliding track like bobsledder Lyndon Rush—and Rush is the first to admit it.

How well does he know it? He was only the second bobsled pilot, after the German Andre Lange, to attempt it during homologation, that mysterious process, matched in strangeness only by the cult of transubstantiation, by which a venue is certified Olympic-ready.

But since then Rush, a 29-year-old former university football player from Humboldt, Sask., has had plenty of time to acquaint himself with the twists and turns of the Whistler Sliding Centre—so much so that even for the Europeans to whom bobsled is a routine part of sports-watching, Rush was a medal favourite.

So what, tonight, in the second heat of the two-man event—with the great Jamaican bobsled veteran-turned-Canadian-juggernaut Lascelles “King” Brown picking up the rear as brakeman—would prompt this pilot to crash the car?

“I made a mistake,” said Rush, a modest guy at the best of times. “The first thing I said was, ‘Sorry King,’ and that’s sort of kind of how I still feel. He pushed like a champion and he deserves better than that and I really let him down. I feel really bad for that.”

The sled found trouble in Turn 11, what Rush describes as a “double-apex corner” with a natural wave. “I kind of let that first one float a little too much and I pushed that second wave further into the exit,” he said. Then, “it snowballed” and Rush lost control, bumping into Turn 13, known among sledders here as 50-50 for the chances you have of getting through it. Though the rollover was dramatic, with the car scraping across the ice an agonizing distance, both men came out relatively unscathed, Rush with cuts to his hands, Brown with an ice burn to the shoulder.

“I’ve had my 50-50 moments but I always seem to pull it off,” Rush said. “But not this time.”

He wasn’t alone—the Brits crashed in the first heat, as did Liechtenstein and Australia. But those teams weren’t favourites to hit the podium. Rush was. Now the Germans occupy first and second place, leaving the U.S. to fight it out with Russia for bronze in the two remaining  heats tomorrow—although, on this track, anything can happen.

Rush’s mishap also permitted fellow Canadian Pierre Lueders and his brakeman, Edmonton Eskimos running back Jesse Lumsden, to move up the ranks.

Lueders, 39, a heavily decorated pilot who won gold in Nagano but who was not seriously expected to medal in Vancouver, saw Rush’s spill while speaking to Canadian reporters and was struck dumb. Mouthing the words “Oh my God,” Lueders turned his back on the press box and dramatically put his head in his hands. It was quite a show. He and Lumsden now occupy seventh place, though Lueders said it was not his preferred way to advance.

There is back story here. Lueders secured the two-man silver in Turino with Brown behind him. Now the pair don’t speak after a cataclysmic falling out, and Brown has said he would only compete with Lueders again “if Jesus Christ stood at the bottom of the course and told me to do it.”

Rush and Brown will continue in the race tomorrow, though Rush admits “we’re not going to win.” Still, he added he would approach tomorrow’s competition the “same as I approach it every day—do my very best.” And they still have a shot with the four man.

So how does it feel to tumble a bobsleigh car at corner 13? “It’s like someone punching you all the way until the sled stops,” Brown explained.

So is watching Canada arrive so well-equipped and then put it in the ditch.