Canadians Crack the Top-15 as The Natural Luge World Championships are Held in Canada for The First TimeFor the first time in history, the World Championships of Natural Luge was held in Canada. The event took place this past weekend in the city of Grande Prairie, AB. With over 70 athletes competing from 14 nations, the event was a booming success. The Canadian squad of John Gibson, Kaj Johnson, Greg Jones, Corey Pusey, and Melissa Jones were well prepared for the event as they have made the Grande Prairie Track their home for the past 3 months. With the current season posing many ups and downs throughout, the team was hoping that this amount of training would result in a significant peak in the season for this monumental race.
Some skeptics questioned if the Canadians would be able to keep up with the powerful European start times. What these critics didn't know was that mother nature employed her own training schedule for the Canadian squad by dumping a metre of snow on the track which resulted in 7 straight days of snow removal for them. With all that shoveling the Canadians' upper body strength increased by at least 100%. They were ready to start with the world.
The first day of training resulted in quite the surprise for the unsuspecting Euros. Kaj Johnson sat tied for 6th place after the first training run. "I overheard my name being spoken in German many times as I walked back up the track for the second run. They all kept saying, 'Johnson Kaj, sechste platz!'" John Gibson, however, heard a different story on the way up the hill. Many coaches and athletes commented on how good he looked coming down but were surprised when his time revealed him to be significantly slower than the rest. John and Kaj were on the case; something was up with his steels. After carefull examination, it was found that John was running on serrated edges!! At a microscopic level of course. Much time was spent in the sled shop that night removing the rough edge and making it razor smooth for the next day.
The second day of the race was devoted to the Team Competition. With the last minute removal of the Canadian doubles team, the Canadians were mere spectators for the day. Without any surprise, Austria 1 came in first place, followed by Italy 1, and in third Austria 2. The real interesting part of the day was the disqualifications. Unbelieveably, some teams did not learn from last years hot steels incident and were disqualified for the same reasons.
With Johnny's steels no longer serrated and the rest of the team waxed and ready, the Canadians embarked on the first race day. Greg Jones was the first of the Canadian men down and posted his best ever time on the track with a 1:19.68. "That's exactly what I wanted, to have my fastest times during the race. The next run will be even faster," said Greg after the run. This was inspiration enough for the remaining Canadians as three other good times were set. Kaj Johnson posted a 1:18.09, his second fastest ever on the track. This was good enough to put him in 7th position after the first day. John Gibson was ranked 16th, Greg Jones 21st, and Corey Pusey 24th.
On Monday the competition grew fierce. The final two race runs were completed and after all the smoke had risen, Gernot Schwab from Austria was crowned the new World Champion of Natural Luge. The Canadians fared very well smashing the old record of a men's finish of 21st by placing two in the top 20 and one in the top 15. Kaj Johnson, despite dropping a few places, came out in 11th place, the best finish for a Canadian male in World Championships history. He was followed closely by the second best ever finish for a Canadian male by John Gibson in 16th place. Greg Jones also had a personal best finish in a World Championships with 23rd place. Corey Pusey, however, struggled through
the race but still managed a respectable finish in 28th. Corey upon crossing the finish line announced his retirement from singles competition. He may, however, return to bring new glory to the burgeoning Canadian doubles scene. "I've devoted many years to this amazing sport and they've all been great. I think it's about time for me to start my new adventure: life. But if they want me back for doubles, I'll have a hard time turning it down."
Kaj spoke about his 11th place finish, "Two years ago I placed 30th in the world. It's amazing to be able to experience first hand the growth since then. I've put in a lot of hard work and it's about time the world sees the Canadians as a threat. I'm extremely proud of this achievement but I'm going to use it only as a marker to get to the next milestone, and believe me, it's coming. The podium is only just around the corner for Canada."
John aslo expressed his pleasure at the results, "I'm incredibly pleased with everyone's performance, we've raised the bar for Canadian Natural Luge once again and this is a great stepping stone for coming seasons." John will now devote the remainder of the season to developing the sport in Grande Prairie by running the Learn to Luge program at the Nitehawk Ski Area.
Final Canadian Results:
11. Melissa Jones, 4:17.87
11. Kaj Johnson, 3:55.45
16. John Gibson, 3:56.31
23. Greg Jones, 4:00.59
28. Corey Pusey, 4:04.75