Canadian sliders get emotional greeting

Lumsden names to bobsled team

By TODD SAELHOF, QMI Agency

CALGARY — Jesse Lumsden isn’t accustomed to having all of Canada on his side, cheering him to victory.

That changed Wednesday, when the Edmonton Eskimos running back was officially named to Canada’s Olympic bobsled team, receiving a raucous applause from Calgary elementary students on what’s supposed to be enemy turf.

“I was worried when they said Eskimos, but then I heard cheers, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Lumsden said.

“It’s very hard to describe because all the emotions come together, you have the kids cheering you on and you’re being introduced as an Olympian. That’s a very elite class of athlete, and if you’d asked me five or 10 years ago, I just never thought I’d be in these shoes.

“I just couldn’t be more happy to be where I am right now.”

Lumsden, the broad-shouldered ball-carrier better known for his pursuit of Grey Cups than gold medals, was one of the star attractions Wednesday as Canada unveiled its bobsled and skeleton squads for the 2010 Winter Games in front of hundreds of flag-waving youngsters at Olympic Heights Elementary School.

Lumsden is one of three athletes riding shotgun for five-time Olympian Pierre Lueders of Edmonton, who joins fellow pilot Lyndon Rush of Humboldt, Sask., to give the host country two legitimate medal contenders on the men’s side next month in Whistler.

Calgary’s Kaillie Humphries, who had a breakthrough season on the World Cup circuit, and veteran driver Helen Upperton, also of Calgary, will fly Canada’s colours in the women’s bobsled races.

Lueders, 39, won a gold medal in the two-man event at the 1998 Nagano Games and nabbed silver four years ago in Turin, Italy.

With former sidekick Lascelles Brown now manning the brakes for Rush, Lueders will rely on a pair of relative newcomers in Whistler, where he’ll get a push — literally — from Lumsden and Edmonton’s Neville Wright, who thought his Olympic dreams had been dashed when he failed to qualify to sprint at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Lumsden and Wright both attended a bobsled camp last March and are in their first competitive season.

“They’ve made a great transition,” Lueders said. “We had the whole season to go through the learning curve with those guys and obviously, already being top athletes in their sport, shows the type of athletic ability they have and that they can make the adjustments they needed to be successful in bobsled. And they’ve done that quite seamlessly.”

Canada’s skeleton squad is headlined by Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., a bronze medallist at the 2006 Turin Games, and Calgary’s Jeff Pain, who brought a silver medal home from Italy four years ago.

Hollingsworth, 29, won seven medals in eight World Cup appearances this winter and is being billed as one of Canada’s best bets to win gold on home ice.

Last week, Hollingsworth wrapped up her second overall World Cup crown, better known as the Crystal Globe.

“Confidence is key in our sport,” she said. “We train very hard physically all the time, but it’s a mental game. You’re travelling at speeds of 140 km/h and you have to be confident enough to tackle those fast lines. I think the success I’ve had so far — being No. 1 in the world — is telling me that my program is working ...

“Obviously, my goal is to be standing on top of that podium. That’s my goal, it’s Canada goal, and I’m going to do my best to achieve that.”

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