You think you have a tough commute to work? It takes Edmonton native Pierre Lueders more than a day to get to his job.
Lueders is now based in Calgary, but to get to work as the head coach of the Russian bobsleigh team, he regularly undergoes this coma-inducing itinerary: Calgary to Amsterdam, then connect to Moscow. From Moscow, fly to Sochi, the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Each trip, including flights and layovers, takes more than a day.
As a bobsleigh pilot, Lueders won gold for Canada at the 1998 Nagano Games and a silver medal at the 2006 Turin Games. He had more than 100 lifetime podium finishes in international events. In 2012, Lueders agreed to take over the Russian program, as they strive to dominate as hosts of the 2014 Games. In the 2012-13 season, under the watchful eye of Lueders, Russian pilot Alexandr Zubkov steered his four-man crew to a World Cup title.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Lyndon Rush piloted the two-man team to the top of the World Cup standings.
For the Russians, sports aren’t about doing your best — they want to win. And Lueders is the man they think could make their team the best in the world.
“They have medalists, but they don’t have anyone who’s actually won at the Olympic Games,” says Lueders. “They can listen to the experience that I can bring them. But I don’t only come from the point of view of someone who has won at the Olympics, but of someone who has raced in the Olympics at home.
“Certainly, as the host nation, there’s an expectation that the team does well. Russia as a nation that has shown it will do what it takes to do well at the Olympic Games. But, as a coach, you put the plan in place and give the information that’s required for the athletes to be successful. But it’s up to those athletes to execute that plan.”
The world of bobsleigh is filled with intrigue; secrets are as guarded as you’d find in the paddocks of Formula One racing teams. One design improvement can give your team a massive edge in a sport where the difference between winning and losing is measured in the hundredths of a second.
In fact, in January, Lueders accused the Germans of cheating — he said that they were coating the runners of their sleds with illegal substances that made them go much faster in races than they did in training. But, when the games begin, Lueders expects few surprises in Sochi.
“Every nation feels that they have their aces up their sleeves that they can unveil at the Olympics. But the truth is that, once the sliding season starts, there isn’t going to be a major change that’s going to give one sled a half-second advantage over everyone else. The top sliding nations are going to remain the top sliding nations — Russia, Germany, the Swiss, the U.S. and Canada.”
And, does Lueders have to bring out his medals to inspire the athletes under his watch? He says that’s not his style. The medals don’t go to Russia — he doesn’t like to show them off.