SPORTS

Three Canadian bobsledders injured in crash in Germany out of hospital

01/13/2012 05:28 EST | Updated 03/14/2012 05:12 EDT
Three Canadian bobsledders injured in a Jan. 5 crash have all been released from hospital.

Pilot Chris Spring of Calgary needed to be airlifted from the track in Altenberg, Germany, because of the severity of his injuries, which included deep cuts, bruises and a broken nose.

The 27-year-old hit the roof of the track after a late entry into a corner and made contact with a rollover barricade. Spring was released from hospital Thursday and has since joined the Canadian team in Konigssee, Germany.

"It's been a difficult week to say the least. It's actually flown by quite quickly and there are still bits and pieces that are still a little scattery in terms of memory," Spring said on a conference call Friday. "Today was a great day to come back and see the rest of the guys here reconnect with some familiar faces."

Saskatoon's Graeme Rinholm was released from hospital Wednesday before returning to Calgary. The 26-year-old suffered a broken fibula, lacerations to his upper legs, buttocks and underlying musculature in the crash.

Bill Thomas of Queensville, Ont., had bruised lungs and other minor trauma. He was released from hospital Sunday and returned to Toronto.

"I got home late last night and got reuinted with my parents and my brothers," said Thomas, 26. "It's a nice, comforting feeling knowing you (are with) the people who care about you the most."

Toronto's Tim Randall, 25, sustained minor injuries, but was not seriously hurt in the incident. Randall returned to Calgary with Derek Plug, who was not in the sled at the time of the accident.

"Getting the athletes discharged from hospital, and reuniting them at home with team doctors and family members is a major step forward in the long road back to their recovery," Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton CEO Don Wilson said. "These are world-class athletes, and we are very proud of how each one of them have handled this very difficult situation."

Canada withdrew its bobsled team from the event following the crash, citing continued safety concerns at the portion of the track where the accident occurred.

Spring crashed twice in three attempts to get his four-man sled down the track, but Canadian coaches and teammates insist he is qualified to drive at Altenberg.

"From a junior level all the way to an elite level in the sport, everyone knows that practice makes perfect. This was my first time here in Altenberg and I knew it was going to be a tough track," Spring said. "I was switched on and felt like I had a good handle on the track and I definitely felt ready for the challenge."

Spring added the track itself is fair in terms of difficulty, but that safety remains a concern.

"This track attracts a lot more crashes than most. Usually when you crash there are minor injuries, or not as severe as the ones that occurred during my crash," he said. "Things like this and what happened with our sled after the crash probably shouldn't happen in a bobsleigh track."

Wilson said the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation needs to ensure that tracks both new and old are up to the standards of the modern athletes and the equipment they use.

"(The Altenberg track) is an older track and we question whether or not the construction that was acceptable five, 10 years ago is up to date as it relates to the quality of athlete that is now pushing — the bigger, faster, stronger (athlete)," Wilson said.

"(The international federation) 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 were used during construction) and how they're constructed are up to date."

Spring was born in Australia and represented that country in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics before switching to the Canadian team after that season. He applied for Canadian citizenship even before those Olympics formally ended, saying he was frustrated over the direction of the Australian program and what he described as a lack of funding.

Australia pulled out of the four-man event in Vancouver after a series of crashes depleted the team's roster and left two athletes with concussions.

It was at those Vancouver Games when safety again moved to the forefront of conversations about sliding sports. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed in a training run and died hours before the opening ceremony, his head smashing into a metal beam after his body sailed over the track wall at nearly 145 km/h when he lost control near the finish line.

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