The Canadian four-man bobsleigh athletes involved in a crash during a training run last week in Germany have been released from hospital, but their horrific experience continues to take a toll both physically and emotionally.
Three of the four team members sustained serious, but non-life-threatening, injuries last Thursday in Altenberg. Their sled piloted by Chris Spring of Calgary hit the roof of the track after a late entry into one of the final corners and subsequently struck a rollover barricade.
Spring, 27, sustained a broken nose, lacerations and bruising in the crash. He was discharged from Dresden University Hospital on Thursday and planned to return to Calgary on Sunday.
Spring told reporters on a conference call Friday that his recovery is "going well" at this early stage, though he continues to experience pain and numbness in his lower back and right buttock, where he sustained a 20-inch cut.
The pilot hopes to resume upper-body workouts in the coming weeks, but "very much doubts" he'll be competing for the rest of the season, which is also the case for at least two of his teammates.
Bill Thomas, 26, was released from Dresden Friedrichstadt Hospital last Sunday and returned to Toronto on Thursday. He was cleared of a suspected major back injury, but is recovering from bruised lungs and minor trauma.
Graeme Rinholm, 26, was released from the local Pirna Hospital on Wednesday and was resting comfortably in his hotel before returning to Calgary on Thursday. Rinholm suffered a broken fibula, lacerations to his upper legs, buttocks and underlying musculature.
Toronto's Tim Randall, 25, sustained minor injuries. Randall returned to Calgary with teammate Derek Plug, who was not in the sled during the incident, on Wednesday.
'He's a great pilot'
After some initial thoughts of walking away from the sport, the team members worked out their feelings together with the help of a sports psychologist and now plan to race again next season as they try to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Rinholm defended Spring, who competed for Australia at the 2010 Olympics before acquiring Canadian citizenship.
"Chris Spring is one of the best pilots that I've ever had a chance to be in a sled with," said Rinholm. "I certainly have no [qualms] with jumping in behind him. He always has the sled under control.
"When the crash happened, he couldn't see for four corners before he actually tipped over. If that doesn't tell you what kind of pilot he is, then I don't think you know anything about the sport.
"He's a great pilot, and I'm confident in his ability to get us to the bottom."
Spring admitted that, in the terrifying moments immediately after the crash, he decided he was done with the sport.
"I remember laying there on the ice and hearing stuff that you don't ever want to hear or see in your lifetime," said the pilot. "I retired in my head."
Not hard to believe after listening to an emotional Spring recall the post-accident scene.
"Seeing Bill and Graeme on the ground, not moving, hearing the noises coming from them, which at first I didn't think were human, it sounded like things were going bad very quickly. Seeing the destruction that the sled was in — I didn't think a sled could ever look like that.
"Those noises and those visuals that I have are something that will stick with me for a long time."'Papier mâché' guardrail
Spring, who was preparing for his first competition at the notoriously difficult Altenberg track, said he felt he "had a good handle" on the course before crashing, which he added is "a part of our sport and always will be."
Spring did, however, challenge the integrity of the track's roof, which is commonly placed over some segments of bobsleigh runs in order to reduce the chances of a sled flying out.
"This didn't happen in my case," Spring said. "Unfortunately, my sled … broke through the roof, hitting, from what I understand, some solid structure up there, pretty much stopping the sled in its tracks. This shouldn't happen. It's like having a guardrail on a mountain highway that's made of papier mâché.
"Let's look at making sure that the structures that are in place are working to their full potential."
Don Wilson, the CEO of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, said the Canadian team had questions about the age of the track, which dates back to the 1980s.
"We want to make sure that the [International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation] takes seriously the safety of our athletes," Wilson said. "They need to check not just the new tracks being built, but they need to go back and take a look at some of the older ones and ensure that the materials that are constructed, and how they're constructed, are up to date as it relates to the amount of speed and power that can be generated by the sleds of today."
Following the crash, Canadian coach Tom de la Hunty made the decision to withdraw all his bobsleigh teams from last weekend's World Cup races in Altenberg after the international federation failed to make safety changes that Canadian officials requested to the portion of the track where Spring crashed.
The Canadian team returned to action this week in Koenigssee, Germany, where Kaillie Humphries and Emily Baadsvik captured a silver medal in Friday's women's race.
The four-man event goes Sunday (CBCSports.ca, 7:30 a.m. ET).
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