Reuters - Wed, 24 Feb 05:33:00 2010
Canada's Kaillie Humphries is now two rides down Whistler's ice track from gold after seizing the midway lead in the women's bobsleigh.
Humphries surged to a new track record of 53.19 on her first slide through the menacing 1400 metres maze and followed that with an even quicker effort of 53.01 to lead the field by 0.13 seconds going into Wednesday's climax.
Erin Pac, driving United States II, could ruin the Canadian party, however, ending her two runs just behind Humphries while Germany's Cathleen Martini was 0.40 seconds off the pace in third.
Germany's reigning Olympic champion and gold medal favourite Sandra Kiriasis endured a miserable day, leaking time on two scrappy runs to end the day looking down and out in fifth.
Britain's world champion Nicola Minichiello is languishing in 10th place at the halfway stage.
The dazzling sunshine may have been replaced by murk and light snow but Humphries and brakewoman Heather Moyse warmed the hearts of the Canadian fans with two sizzling runs.
Twice they broke the push-start record as the duo went halfway to making up for Lyndon Rush's failure in the two-man competition when a rollover at 50-50 corner ended his hopes.
Humphries is competing at her first Olympics after losing her spot to Moyse before Turin when a foot injury sustained tripping over a water hose dropped her down the pecking order.
Although she recovered in time and travelled to the 2006 Games it was only as a reserve pusher -- a shattering disappointment that led to her switching her attention to becoming a driver.
Minichiello and brakewoman Gillian Cooke collected a combined time of 1:47.58 minutes after finishing 10th and 12th in their first and second runs respectively and trail the leaders by 1.38 seconds.
It is a far cry from the form Minichiello and Cooke showed last year in Lake Placid where they romped to the World Championship title before ending the season in fourth in the overall World Cup rankings.
Preparations have been far from ideal with Minichiello suffering an eye injury and undergoing two operations in December but she remains adamant the fat lady has not sung in Whistler just yet.
"Until we cross the finish line after the fourth run we are still shooting for the gold medal. It is everything we have worked for and believed in," she said.
"Overall I'm driving most of the track really well I just keep making a mistake on the first corner and it's killing our speed.
"I'm a bit frustrated with that but the rest of the track I'm really pleased with.
"Starts have been good but we need build on it now and build on those and get closer to the leaders.
"On a track like this anything is possible. Let's see who is still surviving at the end of the four runs.
"Being world champions gives us the confidence to know that we can beat the best in the world.
"We'll go back to analyse it and do everything we can to make sure we nail it."
Meanwhile, Great Britain's second sled of Paula Walker and Kelly Thomas are in 11th, just 0.19 behind their compatriots, having produced the ninth fastest time of the second run.
"It's really unexpected," said Walker, who was recovered from a nasty spill in training. "My second run didn't seem that great from the way that I drove, it was only at the bottom when I realised how quick it was.
"We needed to up our game after the first run and if we can keep improving then we could squeeze into the top ten and that would be a fantastic result for us.
"I didn't think about the crash, it wasn't on my mind but it just reminded me that the bobsleigh track can bite you at any time.
"I've only been driving two and a half years and to get into the top ten would have been a big ambition and it's well within our reach now we just need to come out and do it again.
"It's always good to have a friendly rivalry with our team-mates. If I can get in front of Nicola I would be over the moon."
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