It’s a downhill sport but an uphill battle for Canada’s bobsled and skeleton stars
When Canada’s Christine de Bruin first held her Olympic monobob medal at the Beijing Games last month she said it felt “awesome.” But as she drove her sled to that bronze medal, she carried with her the memories of what her sport federation, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, had put her through over the years including, she says, not supporting her during an injury the summer before the Games.
“The whole way down the track I was like, ‘F-you, f-you, f-you.’ I really did do it in spite of BCS,” she says of winning that medal.
De Bruin is an excellent driver but she is not the fastest on the push start, AS a result, she says she has never fit the “ideal” athlete archetype that has existed in BCS since president Sarah Storey and high-performance director Chris Le Bihan came to power in 2014.
That has manifested itself in big and small ways.
She was left off the team in 2014 for missing a push standard by one-hundredth of a second and only stayed in the sport because of the support of a provincial bobsled coach who saw and nurtured her potential. The push, de Bruin says, “is not the be all and end all, obviously — I just won an Olympic medal.”
She detailed instances over the years that contributed to making her generally feel unwanted, from Le Bihan not letting her use an older development team sled for a race, even though it was sitting unused in the garage, to important emails going unanswered for weeks on end.
De Bruin won back-to-back world championship bronze medals in 2019 and 2020 in the two-woman event, Canada’s top women’s result since Kaillie Humphries left the program to compete for the U.S.
But when she suffered a hip injury in 2021 and was running out of insurance-covered therapy, she asked BCS for help and says, once again, she felt completely undervalued. “We’re really sorry to hear about your injury but we’re not going to support you (with therapy),” she says she was told.
The Star has requested comment from Storey and Le Bihan multiple times and been told they are invested in the independent mediation process initiated by the BCS board and will not speak until that process is complete.
De Bruin says her experience is one example of what the athletes who signed the letter calling for an investigation into BCS and the resignation of Storey and Le Bihan mean when they say “results which have been achieved over the last two quadrennials were achieved despite BCS, not because of them.” And saying that publicly for the first time leaves her fearful her federation will find a way to make her suffer for it.
“I am scared as hell right now,” she says.
The Star has spoken to multiple athletes who say that fear of retribution is why so many of the more than 80 current and former bobsled and skeleton athletes who have signed the letter want to remain anonymous and why they can’t agree to group mediation with BCS, which would expose those athletes.
Elisabeth Maier understands that concern. The skeleton athlete made it to the podium in her first World Cup season in 2014 and won medals every year after that through to the 2019 season when she took time off to have her son Hendrix.
But she has always had a rocky time with the federation — not just lack of support but a feeling that they were hoping to see her fail, she says. She thinks that is because she challenged Storey and Le Bihan. So did her mother, who acted as a whistleblower to the Canadian Olympic Committee in 2017 about perceived problems at BCS and was inadvertently exposed.
In an era when sport is finally starting to make some positive changes for athlete mothers, Maier says she felt zero support from her Canadian federation. When she announced her pregnancy, she says she was taken off the website even though she had made it clear she was returning to the sport.
Maier watched the U.S. federation be happy for Olympic bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor when she had her son Nico. “I ended up with a lawyer trying to get my maternity leave funding,” she says.
Instead of supporting her comeback, BCS put roadblocks in her way, Maier says. When she found out there would be no therapist at the track in Whistler for her first races back from maternity leave, she brought her own. The federation disciplined her for it, she says.
When she wore an old speed suit at a World Cup because the new one they sent her didn’t fit, BCS told her it was a serious breach of the athlete code of conduct, she says.