Francesco Friedrich wants to be the best bobsledder in history. He may already be.

Francesco Friedrich
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Amid the recent chatter about sports GOATs, German bobsledder Francesco Friedrich hones his craft in Altenberg, site of the two-week world championships that finish this weekend.

Every run down an icy chute, every piece of conditioning, every second of studying tracks is a step closer to a goal that Friedrich may have already reached.

“He wants to be the greatest in bobsled history,” said older brother David.

David is considerably responsible for Friedrich’s success, which may have crescendoed on Super Bowl Sunday.

Friedrich won a record-breaking 10th world championship, taking the two-man event by 2.05 seconds, the largest margin in at least 15 years (since times are readily available online) and greater than the margin separating second place from 16th place.

This Saturday and Sunday in the prized four-man event, Friedrich bids to sweep both titles at a record-extending fifth consecutive global championship (Olympics and worlds).

“Bobsledding is 99 percent doing other things than your sport,” Friedrich said before worlds, noting the strength training, the mental prep and even gaining sponsors and finding the right push athletes to fill sleds for competition runs that total less than an hour over the course of a season. “The races are the last part of the puzzle.”

David was the first piece. The native of Saxony took up bobsled at 18. A year in, he crashed a four-man sled on his home track of Altenberg, losing consciousness and breaking his helmet.

David was placed in a coma for three weeks. German media at the time reported his life was not in danger.

The next year, Francesco followed his brother into bobsled.

“We didn’t consider to quit bobsled after the crash,” David wrote in an email. “We already know that such crashes could happen.”

Another crash happened months later. This time, the younger Friedrich was driving. David was the brakeman and got the worse of it. He had a broken vertebra and ultimately retired.

“In the beginning it was difficult for Franz,” David wrote, “but the X-rays showed us that it was an injury from the crash one year before.”

Friedrich continued on. The retirement of four-time Olympic champion Andre Lange in 2010 helped open the door for Friedrich to make his world championships debut in 2011. He placed 11th in the two-man, worst of the four sleds for Germany, the most successful nation in the sport’s history.

The next year, Friedrich placed fourth in the two-man. It was the last time he left a worlds without a gold medal.

“He is more powerful than many brakemen,” David, now a German junior skeleton coach, wrote. “Losing a race is his biggest motivation.”

That made what happened at the Sochi Olympics particularly moving. Friedrich was part of a German bobsled program that went medal-less at an Olympics for the first time in 50 years. He vowed, on the final day of the Games, that it would never happen again on his watch.

“From this point, I started to train harder, I think about the [mental] material more,” he said. “I have this whole thing more in my mind. All my decisions are to be the best, I think.”

They were the right decisions, resulting in historic dominance.

Starting in 2015, Friedrich competed in 13 Olympic or world championships events, winning 11 golds, one silver and placing fourth once. He ran his World Cup wins tally to 52, most for a male or female driver in history (breaking the record held by countrywoman Sandra Kiriasis, who did so with one event, not two, available for women).

This year, he won 15 of 16 World Cups and last week broke the record for world titles held by the man long considered the GOAT — Italian Eugenio Monti. Next year, he can become the first man to sweep two- and four-man titles at back-to-back Olympics (Kaillie Humphries won back-to-back two-woman titles in 2010 and 2014).

“Franz is a professor in bobsled,” David said. “He wants to leave nothing to chance.”

Friedrich is still just 30. He is meticulous. He is humble, helping find sponsors for other bobsledders. And looking for an adrenaline rush, if not in a sled, then chasing speed on a bike or in a car.

Friedrich has studied the legends who came before him, including Lange and Christoph Langen. (He said he has never seen video of Monti’s championships in the 1950s and ’60s, when bobsled was a technologically different sport.)

“My mentality is to pick from all the best,” Friedrich said. “I see them all. I see how they slide. I ask them what they do to be fast. I picked altogether from all the best. I go my own way, but I take some things from that.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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French Open: Novak Djokovic rolls to start Grand Slam record quest

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic began his quest for a record-breaking 23rd men’s Grand Slam singles title by beating 114th-ranked American Aleksandar Kovacevic 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (1) in the French Open first round on Monday.

Djokovic, seeded third, next gets 83rd-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics. Djokovic could meet top seed Carlos Alcaraz in the semifinals. They are the favorites in the absence of 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, whom Djokovic tied for the overall men’s Slam titles record with his 10th Australian Open crown in January.

Earlier Monday, Sloane Stephens looked sharp in her opening match with a 6-0, 6-4 win over two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova.

While Stephens’ only Grand Slam title came at the 2017 U.S. Open, she’s also had sustained success at Roland Garros, finishing as a runner-up to Simona Halep in 2018 and reaching two quarterfinals on the red clay in Paris — including last year.

“This is my favorite court in the world, so I’m super happy to be back,” Stephens told the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier. “To start a Slam on your favorite court, your favorite surface, is always incredible.”

She helped American women go 4-0 through the first few hours of play on Day 2 of the tournament after a 1-4 start on Sunday, when the only U.S. victory came in a match between two players from the country: Jessica Pegula beat Danielle Collins.

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Madison Keys, the runner-up to Stephens in New York six years ago and a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2018, beat Kaia Kanepi 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 on Monday to improve her career record in the first round of majors to 35-5.

Keys next plays American qualifier Kayla Day, who eliminated French wild-card entry Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-1.

Also, Croatian-born American Bernarda Pera beat former No. 2-ranked Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a finalist in Paris in 2021, breezed past Czech teenager Linda Fruhvirtova 6-2, 6-2; and 22nd-seeded Donna Vekic beat qualifier Dayana Yastremska 6-2, 7-5.

Stephens was down a break in the second set against Pliskova but then won three straight games to close it out.

Stephens had a 19-16 edge in winners and committed only 10 unforced errors to 31 by Pliskova, who lost in the finals of the U.S. Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2021.

“This court is a bit tricky. You have to play on it a lot to understand when the wind is blowing and where it’s coming,” Stephens said. “The more you play on it, the more you understand it. But it’s a very complicated court. But that’s what makes it so amazing.”

Stephens won a small clay-court tournament in Saint Malo, France, at the start of the month and also reached the semifinals of the Morocco Open last week after only playing a total of three matches at bigger clay events in Madrid and Rome.

“Last year, my clay season wasn’t great, but I played amazing at Roland Garros last year,” Stephens said, “and this year, I really wanted to get matches and play a lot and to see where that got me.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Canada wins men’s hockey world title; Latvia wins first medal

IIHF Hockey World Championship

TAMPERE, Finland — Samuel Blais scored two goals to rally Canada to a 5-2 victory over Germany in the final of the world men’s hockey championship on Sunday.

It’s a record 28th world title for Canada, and its second in three years. Russia has 27 while Germany has never won the trophy.

Blais netted with a backhand 4:51 into the final period for a 3-2 lead for Canada, which was playing in its fourth straight final.

“It feels really good,” Blais said. “We’ve been in Europe for a month and we’ve all waited for that moment to play for the gold medal game. And we’re lucky enough to have won it.”

Lawson Crouse, Tyler Toffoli and Scott Laughton also scored for Canada, Peyton Krebs had two assists and goaltender Samuel Montembeault stopped 21 shots.

Toffoli stretched the lead to 4-2 from the left circle with 8:09 remaining and Laughton made it 5-2 with an empty net goal.

Adam Fantilli became only the second Canadian player after Jonathan Toews to win gold at the world juniors and world championship the same year.

Canada had to come back twice in the final.

John Peterka wristed a shot past Montembeault from the left circle 7:44 into the game. It was the sixth goal for the Buffalo Sabres forward at the tournament.

Blais was fed by Krebs to beat goaltender Mathias Niederberger and tie it 1-1 at 10:47.

Daniel Fischbuch put the Germans ahead again with a one-timer with 6:13 to go in the middle period.

Crouse equalized on a power play with 2:32 remaining in the frame.

It was the first medal for Germany since 1953 when it was second behind Sweden.

The two previously met just once in the final with Canada winning 6-1 in 1930.


Defenseman Kristian Rubins scored his second goal 1:22 into overtime to lead Latvia to a 4-3 victory over the United States and earn a bronze medal earlier Sunday.

It’s the first top-three finish for Latvia at the tournament. Its previous best was a seventh place it managed three times.

The U.S. lost in the bronze medal game for the second straight year. The U.S. team was cruising through the tournament with eight straight wins until it was defeated by Germany in the semifinal 4-3 in overtime.

Rubins rallied Latvia with his first with 5:39 to go in the final period to tie the game at 3 to force overtime.

Roberts Bukarts and Janis Jaks also scored for Latvia.

Rocco Grimaldi scored twice for the U.S. in the opening period to negate Latvia’s 1-0 and 2-1 leads.

Matt Coronato had put the U.S. 3-2 ahead 6:19 into the final period.

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