Bissonnette races to para-bob gold
LAKE PLACID — With just 13 racers competing in Lake Placid over the weekend, the 2019 IBSF Para Bobsled World Championships certainly didn’t feature a big field.
But there’s little doubt that each athlete who competed has guts, determination, and perhaps most of all, loves the adrenaline rush that comes along with piloting a sled down a mile-long chute of ice at speeds approaching 70 mph.
Oh, and they were also pretty impressive at driving a bobsled.
The 2019 World Championship was a four-heat race at Mount Van Hoevenberg that included a pair of runs on Saturday and two more on Sunday, and this year’s victory was claimed by the driver who’s been on top of the heap all season on the World Cup tour. Canada’s Lonnie Bissonnette captured the gold medal with a four-run total time of 4 minutes, 2.73 seconds. Bissonnette turned in the fastest finish times in the first three heats and clinched the title with the fifth-best result on the final run of the race Sunday afternoon.
Great Britain’s Corie Mapp slid to the silver medal and Sebastian Westin of Sweden grabbed the bronze.
The racers arrived in Lake Placid last week and began their training runs from a start lower down the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg. As the week progressed they eventually worked their way to Start No. 1 at the top of the track, and that’s where they raced from once the actual competition got underway.
Bissonnette is a thrill seeker who loves base jumping. He was injured in 2006 jumping off a 500-foot high bridge when his parachute became tangled around his legs and didn’t fully open. In addition to being one of the world’s best para bobsledders, Bissonnette still enjoys base jumping, and does it while strapped into his wheelchair.
He set the bar Saturday morning with a smoking run of 59.70 seconds, which was the only sub-one minute result of the entire race. The 53-year-old then stayed steady on the way to winning his second Para Bobsled World title. Bissonnette’s winning total was .86 seconds quicker than Mapp’s runner-up result.
Mapp, a British soldier who lost both legs in a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan, also stayed solid over the weekend. He had the next-fastest run during both of Saturday’s run, and that gave him a large enough cushion to clinch the silver medal with two more good runs on Sunday. Mapp put down the fourth-fastest run in the third heat and the sixth-best in the final run to finish with a 4:03.59 combined time.
“I am very happy. It’s a great way to end the season,” said Mapp, who was first introduced to para bobsled in 2013. “A very enjoyable race, very close. Three out of four runs were good in my eyes. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the consistency. This race was more about consistency than anything else, especially because we didn’t have a lot of time to go off from the top of the track.
“I think I did my best and am pleased with the result,” Mapp added. “I was beaten by someone who has been driving well all season. Sometimes you just have to take what you achieve and try and move on and try and do better.”
Westin, a relative newcomer to para bobsledding, now has two seasons under his belt. The adventurous Swede, who suffered a spinal cord injury while backpacking in the Himalayas, stood in fifth place after Saturday’s runs, jumped into fourth after Sunday’s opening heat, and then secured the bronze medal on his last trip down the track.
Westin’s bronze-medal total time was 4:04.35, which was 1.62 seconds behind Bissonnette’s gold-medal performance. He said that Sunday’s racing went much better than it did on Saturday.
“I’m happy that I could make better runs than yesterday. I stepped up my game today,” Westin said. “They were my last runs of the season. I won’t slide again until November, December, so having good runs as my last two runs makes me feel this season is complete now. I can wrap it up and do something else now and then start focusing on next season later on this year.”
After four runs and four miles of sliding, there was a tie for fourth place as Latvia’s Alvils Brants and Guro Konstanse Fronsdal, the lone female in the championships, both turned in 4:04.45 totals.
Spain’s Israel Blanco placed sixth in 4:04.76, and Pier Alberto Buccoliero of Italy slid to a seventh-place result in 4:04.82.
Steven Jacobo of Lake Tahoe was the top American finisher, placing eighth with a 4:05.39 total. Jacobo fractured his back while snowboarding and has now been involved in para bobsledding for four years. He said in a way, the injury proved to be a blessing as it introduced him to the sport of bobsled, which he loves.
“I enjoy it. I would never take back my accident because if I could, I probably would have never got into bobsledding,” Jacobo said after his final run Sunday. “I knew what it was before but it was something I never got into. I’m glad where I’m at now. I would never take it back so everything’s good.”
The trip to Lake Placid was a first for Jacobo, who has been sliding for four years and can now add competing on another track to his para bobsled resume. He said an eighth-place result was satisfying.
“Every year, I’m doing new tracks, I keep getting better. It’s awesome,” he said. “This whole week has been great. It’s the first time I’ve been here on this track. I definitely learned a lot and it’s probably one of my favorite tracks I’ve been on. It was a close race, I’m happy with it, and I had a lot of fun. I can’t wait to come back.”
In rounding out the field, Switzerland’s Christopher Stewart placed ninth, Fabrizio Caseli of Italy was 10th, Nikolai Johann of Germany finished 11th, American Christ Rasmussen placed 12th and Dave Nichols of Israel slid into 13th place.
The World Championships marked the end of the para bobsled season that included 10 World Cup events. Those stops took competitors to Park City, Utah; Calgary, Canada; Lillehammer, Norway; Oberhof, Germany and St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Although the athletes who were in the weekend races were obviously wearing their game faces, Mapp said the sport of para bobsled offers a whole lot more than just the opportunity to compete.
“It’s a very pure sport. I like adrenaline, it’s a nice rush,” Mapp said. “This community, as you can see here, is quite close to each other. We enjoy each others’ company. It’s more than just competing in a sport. There’s a timely atmosphere to it, and I’m extremely proud to be a part of it.”