He’s a minimalist who has tossed away his extraneous possessions and keeps everything that means anything to him in a GMC Savana van.
When you consider Chris Spring’s own size, a burly 5-foot-11 and 223 pounds, that doesn’t leave much room for anything really.
So what if he returns from South Korea with an Olympic medal in his possession? What then?
“I’ll keep an Olympic medal, that’s for sure,” grinned Spring. “Where I’ll keep it … that’ll be the hardest thing for me. Maybe in the glove box of the van.
“That medal won’t be for me, it’ll be for everyone else. If I’m lucky enough to come home with a medal, then I’ll be making sure I can share it with as many people as I can and bring joy to their lives.”
Spring, originally from Darwin, Australia, is a member of the 24-athlete contingent that will represent Canada in skeleton and bobsleigh at the February Games. This will be the 33-year-old’s third Olympic quest – his first in 2010 was under the Australian flag, while in 2014, having acquired dual citizenship, he opted to race with the maple leaf on his suit. In Sochi, he finished in seventh in the two-man and 13th in the four.
“It is very easy to forget the success you’ve had,” Spring noted, “so I’ll be drawing on that definitely going into the races in a few weeks’ time and reminding myself that I am one of the greatest bobsleigh pilots in the world right now and that I do have the ability not to just win medals, but to win gold. We’ll be taking that into the Games.”
A winner of a Crystal Globe on the 2017-18 World Cup circuit – he finished third overall in the two-man standings – Spring has a definite shot of stepping onto the podium in Pyeongchang.
Bobsleigh Canada’s head coach Todd Hays, a former competitor for the United States, knows quality when he sees it and with Spring – just as with fellow pilot Justin Kripps – he has some expectations.
“Chris is just starting to come into his own,” Hays said. “All of his experiences through sliding seem to be peaking at the right time with an Olympic year, which is amazing. He’s one of the best drivers in the world; he’s demonstrated that multiple times this year. I couldn’t be happier for him and it’s a great year to come together and peak as a driver.”
Spring’s path to bobsleigh excellence began rather unusually. In Canada on a work visa in 2007, he attended the sport’s national championships at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park as a tourist and was immediately hooked. He now trains in Calgary and Whistler, B.C.
“I had no plans 11 years ago to start bobsleigh,” he indicated. “I didn’t even know what bobsledding was. Growing up in Australia, my only tie to the winter was watching things on TV. It struck me and I was intrigued by the kind of athletes that were involved in this sport and what it takes as an athlete to be a high-level bobsledder. I thought I had a lot of similarities in that regard.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a seeker of adventure or adrenaline or anything like that. But I’m never one to saying no to new things. While I was there at the bobsled track, I was talking to someone that was also watching that had learned to drive a bobsled, and he was wondering if I could be his brakeman. Like most things back 11 years ago, I would always say yes. I got into the sport just by saying ‘yes’.”
‘More Canadian than Australian’
Initially, it was for Australia that he raced, a country not particularly synonymous with sliding sports. When he then had the option – becoming a Canadian citizen on July 1, 2013 – it was really a no-brainer.
“Someone sent me an e-mail with a few questions and where my patriotism lies and if I do actually feel Canadian or not,” he related. “And I do! It’s very difficult these days to feel Australian when all I do is walk around with Canada gear on, I sing the national anthem and everywhere I go I’m representing Canada. So it wasn’t a difficult decision to switch countries and compete for Canada, and I know it won’t be difficult in the future because I feel more Canadian than Australian.”
His coach believes that having been to a pair of Olympic Games is a huge advantage.
“Having seen the pressure, having felt the experience of when the lights come on,” said Hays. “Those first couple of times at the Games, you can tell them what to expect but they just don’t know. But now he’ll walk in as a veteran, he knows he has had success at the front of the bobsleigh so now it’s time to take advantage and shine for this Games.”
Spring, however, isn’t convinced.
“It can help,” he pointed out, “and it can hinder, too. There’s a cool thing about being a first-time Olympian, especially with Team Canada. There’s a lot of support available. People say that ignorance is bliss and I agree with that. A lot of new athletes coming to this Olympics, they’re going to treat it like any other event. That kind of ignorance can be helpful, I believe. Being my third, I hope I can draw on some things I did wrong in the past and hopefully turn those into positives and walk away with some medals.”
Ah, yes, medals and finding a place for them in his mobile home.
“I love it,” he insisted of van living. “Honestly, maybe the older I’m getting, it’s realizing what’s important to me and what’s not important to me. I’m trying to simplify my life to make sure the things I have, whether material or people, are what’s important to me and I can do that living in a van.
“I have and will have no problem getting rid of things. This (Canada) shirt – we received it earlier this summer and I’d already given it away, so I had to get another one. This (Olympic) jacket I’m sure will go to friends or family that have supported me. My Crystal Globe, actually we got back on Monday and I’d already given it to someone on Tuesday so I had to grab it back for this event (the Olympic team announcement Jan. 24).
“So I don’t have any medals, no trophies, nothing. As long as I have the memories, some photos to look through, that’s all that matters for me.”
Rita Mingo is a longtime sportswriter who has covered one Olympics, the CFL, NLL and Triple-A baseball and was the Fred Sgambati Award winner for national university sports coverage in 2016. Follow her on Twitter @RitaMingo.