Posted: Sunday February 19, 2006 6:48PM; Updated: Monday February 20, 2006 10:33AM
Lascelles Brown (left), who pushed sleds for Jamaica from 1999-2004, helped Canada win a silver medal in two-man bobsledding.
TURIN, Italy -- The story of the Canadian two-man bobsled team of Pierre Lueders and Lascelles Brown is, to some extent, a case of life imitating art, though we're being rather liberal with our use of the word art, since the piece in question is the movie Cool Runnings.
Brown, an athletic Jamaican butcher who had briefly dabbled in boxing, first got interested in the sport after seeing the 1993 Disney film based on Jamaica's 1988 Olympic team. The movie, of course, made light of the team's substantial shortcomings, enhancing their reputation as lovable losers who don't care that they're out of their element. Since its release, however, Jamaica's bobsled program has actually evolved into a decent squad. Brown joined in 1999, and at Salt Lake City in 2002 he set an Olympic start record (4.78 seconds) in the two-man.
Brown trained for those Salt Lake City Games in Calgary, where he started dating Kara Smart. A few months after the Games they married and settled down in the city, and Brown tried to convince his Jamaican teammates to move their base of operations to the Great White North. When they hesitated, Brown asked for a release from the Jamaican program, which would allow him to compete for Canada in the World Cup. Dudley Stokes, the man who put Jamaican bobsledding on the map, reluctantly agreed. "[Jamaica has] a great disadvantage in equipment and money and ice time," says Brown. "That's why I went to Canada. Then I met a woman and fell in love. Then I decided it's best to become part of the Canadian program."
Lueders, meanwhile, was struggling to find the form that won him a gold medal in the two-man in 1998. After the Nagano Games his brakeman, Doug MacEachern, retired. At Salt Lake City, Lueders slid with Giulio Zardo and came in a disappointing fifth. In time the two grew more comfortable with each other -- on the track, at least. In February 2004 they won the world two-man title in Germany. But that December, Zardo was left off Canada's four-man sled in a World Cup race in Austria, and he responded by shoving his coach, Gerd Grimme, to the ice. Zardo was suspended indefinitely by the Canadian bobsleigh federation, leaving Lueders without a brakeman.
It didn't take Emma Woodhouse to figure out that Lueders and Brown might make a good match. Since the World Cup's residency standards aren't as strict as the Olympics', Brown was able to slide with Lueders during the season. The pair won the World Championships in Calgary in February, and two months later any question of whether Brown's status in the sled was interim was removed when Zardo quit the program. (It was quite a remarkable flameout: Zardo ripped Lueders for being a backstabber and said he was so cantankerous that it was impossible to have any fun; then he failed a tryout for the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL and was suspended for two years after testing positive for finasteride, the same drug for which U.S. skeleton racer Zach Lund was suspended. Like Lund, Zardo said it came from a hair-loss drug.)
While Zardo's departure solidified Brown's position as Canada's top brakeman, there was still one small problem: Brown wasn't a Canadian citizen, so he wasn't eligible to compete in Turin. His status became a national issue, and Lueders made no mistake about how he felt. In December he ripped the Canadian government for not putting Brown's application on the fast track, like the U.S. did with Canadian-born ice dancer Tanith Belbin. Lueders called it "scandalous" and "disgusting," saying, "When you see how sport is run in Canada and how our government is run in general, maybe nobody should be surprised." Then they had a stroke of luck when Lueders' mom ran into deputy prime minister Anne McLellan in an Edmonton flower shop. "With a politician, they always say hello," says Lueders. "My mom told her that she was the mother of Pierre Lueders, and away they went. [McLellan] said, 'Look, have Pierre give me a call at home.' She wouldn't make any guarantees but said she would look into it at a higher level, and she was true to her word."
On Jan. 20, Brown received his citizenship. It was just in time, on two counts: The deadline for submitting the Olympic roster was Jan. 30, and, more pressingly, McLellan was voted out of office when Canada's liberal government was trounced at the polls on Jan. 23.
So the Canadians finally could book passage to Turin for their odd couple. Brown, 31, is preternaturally laid-back, while it should be noted that Zardo wasn't completely off-base when he accused Lueders of being a grumpus. The 35-year-old is actually a very pleasant man, but he possesses the un-Canadian trait of saying exactly what's on his mind, no matter whom it might offend. Upon arriving in Turin, Lueders had a softball question lobbed his way: Was he enjoying the Olympic experience? His response: "Not really. [The athletes' village] isn't quite finished.... It's basically half a construction zone. It's not a lot different than out here [at the track]. It's pretty disappointing. Maybe in a couple of years they will be ready."
Lueders was also clearly miffed on Saturday, after a German paper accused that country's top team of Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske of illegally coating their steel runners. "I can read German," Lueders said, before admitting it served as a motivation for his second run, on which he and Brown threw up the fastest time in the heat to vault from fifth to second place. On Sunday, they were again quick, but not fast enough to catch Lange and Kuske. Still, both were clearly elated with their finish. As they celebrated their silver medal, a beaming Lueders clasped his brakeman on the shoulder and said, "Lascelles Brown, welcome to Canada."