Surprise four-man bob gold for Canada’s Emery
Hailing from French-speaking Montreal, Vic Emery fell in love with bobsleigh on a trip to the 1956 Olympic Winter Games at Cortina d’Ampezzo, and was spurred the following year to set up the Association de Bobsleigh des Laurentides with his brother John, all in a region and a country without a track to its name or a single elite bobsledder.
The Emery boys returned to Europe to learn their new-found trade, receiving valuable advice and support from the Italian bobsleigh star Eugenio Monti. As well as competing as a two-man team, they also formed a four-man unit with Doug Anakin and Peter Kirby, and took part in their first world championships in Lake Placid in 1959, finishing 13th. Three years later in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Canadians climbed up to fourth.IOC
The pioneers of Canadian bobsleighing prepared for Innsbruck 1964 by training in a gym and then taking loan of the Olympic track in Lake Placid whenever an opportunity presented itself. Convinced that he had a chance of getting in among the medals, Emery said, much to the amazement of the heads of Canada’s Olympic team: “I don’t know what colour it will be – gold, silver or bronze – or if it will come in the two-man or the four, but I’m certain that we’ll come away with a medal.”
Emery duly served notice of his medal intentions in the two-man competition, teaming up with Kirby to steer CAN-2 into the lead at the end of the first run. They were unable to stay there, however, coming in fifth, sixth and seventh in the subsequent three runs to finish fourth in a competition won by Tony Nash and Robin Dixon in GBR-1 from the two Italian crews.
Five days later, Emery slid his 1.87m frame into CAN-1 to contest the first run of the four-man competition, with his brother John, Anakin and brakeman Kirby behind him. Skilfully negotiating the 14 turns of the Igls track, he posted a new track record of 1:02.99 to open up a lead of over half a second on his closest pursuer, Monti in ITA-2. Conceding only 0.32 seconds to Franz Schelle in GER-1 in run two, the intrepid Canadian cemented his overall lead.IOC
By this stage, CAN-1 was in a precarious state, its rear axle having been bent out of shape on day one of the competition. The selfless Monti came to the rescue, however, dispatching his mechanics to sort out the problem. It was not the only time that Monti helped out his rivals at Innsbruck, the Italian having lent a spare bolt to Nash and Dixon in the two-man. Monti’s wonderful examples of sportsmanship would lead to him being awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal the following year.IOC
Taking place on consecutive days, 6 and 7 February, runs three and four saw CAN-1 maintain its electrifying pace, registering the second-fastest time on the penultimate run and then going quickest of all on the last to register one of the biggest surprises of the Games as Canada won gold on its Olympic bobsleigh debut. Taking their places on the podium below the Canadian quartet were Erwin Thaler’s AUT-1 and Monti’s ITA-2, the Italian securing his second bronze of the 1964 Games.
At the following year’s world championships in St Moritz, Emery won bronze in the two-man with Michael Young and gold in the four-man with Young, Gerald Presley and Kirby. “You’re never a real champion until you go out and do it a second time,” said Emery, whose success was a catalyst for the sport’s development in Canada and inspired the generations of male and female champion bobsledders who have followed the trail he blazed.