The German bobsleigh ace
Having already won four consecutive two-man bob World Championship titles, plus a four-man bob title in 2017, German pilot Francesco Friedrich achieved an exceptional double at PyeongChang 2018: a joint victory in the two-man sled with Thorsten Margis (shared with Canada's Justin Kripps), and an outright win for gold in the fours with Margis, Candy Bauer and Martin Grothkopp. At the age of 28, his impressive record has already placed him among the best pilots of all time.
The youngest world champion in history
Francesco Friedrich, born in Pirna in Saxony, came to bobsleigh with his older brother David from athletics when he was 16 years old. David would for a period be Francesco's pusher, but the former’s career was interrupted by a serious injury, after which he did not go very far at international level. Aged 20, Francesco made a name for himself by becoming the junior world champion in the doubles and taking silver in the fours, with David, in 2011 on the Park City track. He joined the World Cup circuit the following year, and his first major international victory as pilot was a World Championship title in the two-man sled with Jannis Baecker in St Moritz on 26 January 2013; at age 22, he became the youngest ever pilot to win a gold medal in the competition’s 83 years of history. "Now, I am up there among the best," said “Franz”, as he is fondly known these days.
Four consecutive gold medals in the two-man bob
"Franz is a talent that you only see once every hundred years. He has everything needed to make bobsleigh history over the years to come; he is capable of putting his failures behind him and drawing astute conclusions from them," said his coach Gerd Leopold in 2015, when Francesco won his second two-man bob title in Winterberg. Since then he has participated in his first Winter Games at Sochi 2014, but without obtaining the results expected: eighth with Kevin Kuske in the Germany 1 sled, and 10th place as the pilot of the four-man Germany 2 sled. After Sochi, at the World Championships and in the World Cup, he added titles, victories and Crystal Globes to his list of achievements. On the Königsee track in 2017, he won his fourth consecutive World Championship title in the two-man bob, and at the same time shared a win in the fours with his compatriot Johannes Lochner, whose sled crossed the line in an identical time. At the end of the season, he won World Cup Crystal Globes in the two-man and combined men's.
A shared Olympic title
Francesco was naturally one of the big favourites for the two-man Olympic event that took place in Alpensia on 18 and 19 February 2018, especially since he had already won on the very same track in the World Cup Olympic test event less than a year earlier. Nevertheless, his first day in the sled with Thorsten Margis did not go well: he was in fifth place overall after the first two heats, 0.29 seconds behind the leader, his compatriot Nico Walther. But he pulled out all the stops the next day in the third heat, setting a track record of 48.96 and climbing to second place, 0.06 seconds behind the Canadian Justin Kripps, who had also made up some time. Kripps, in a team with Alexander Kopacz, completed the final descent in 49.28, but Francesco and Margis descended in the quickest time again, 49.22, cancelling out the 0.06-second time gap and making the two teams joint gold medallists! The Germans and Canadians celebrated the result arm in arm.
"It was crazy," reflected Francesco after the race. "Yesterday we didn't manage a good run in either heat, and we had to battle to come back, battle with all our strength. We twice recorded the best time, and it's crazy that we have a victory after the first day." He repeated: "It's really crazy! There were 0.06 seconds between us and we thought that the Canadians were going to win, or that it could end in a draw. I was hoping that it would end like that, and that it would be like at the World Championships in the fours last year, and that's what happened. Fantastic! We have worked so many years for this!"
A dominant four!
In the final two days of the PyeongChang Games, Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 February, the Germany 1 team, piloted by Francesco with Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis, dominated the four-man event: Francesco clocked the best time in the first three heats and began the final descent with a considerable lead over second place, such was the team's dominance. The battle behind first place was intense, and in the end, Francesco's compatriot Nico Walther and South Korea's Won Yun-jong shared the silver medal, beaten by over half a second (0.53 seconds) in total.
"These last two weeks have been really demanding," explained the German double gold medallist. "We have had to work a lot on the runners and also on the lines. I find it hard to believe that we have got here after such a tough period. I am really proud of all the German results in all of the sliding disciplines. The men and the women who were not necessarily expected to medal," he added, referring to the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton. He is the sixth bobsleigh pilot to win two golds at the same Olympic Games after Andreas Ostler (Germany) in 1952, Eugenio Monti (Italy) in 1968, Meinhard Nehmer (East Germany) in 1976, Wolfgang Hoppe (East Germany) in 1984 and André Lange (Germany) in 2006. And what's more, at 28, he still has many years ahead of him to add to his already impressive record of achievements!