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Canadian luge team reaps benefits of hard off-season under German coach

Bulging muscles and V-shaped chests tell the story of how the Canadian luge team spent their summer.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Their off-season training under head coach Wolfgang Staudinger of Germany was the hardest the sliders have ever done in their lives.

The results showed through their skintight racing suits Thursday at Canada Olympic Park. Canada's elite male sliders - Jeff Christie of Vancouver and Ian Cockerline and Sam Edney of Calgary - each say they've added over seven pounds of muscle to their frames.

"I think I look better in a speed suit," Cockerline said with a grin.

But the purpose of all the circuit training, paddling their sleds on a track, roller skiing and endless hours in the weight room wasn't to adhieve a superhero's physique.

Sliders hits speeds of 127 kilometres per hour on the track and the G-force pressure exerted on their bodies is similar to the G-force of a cornering Formula One car.

The Canadian luge team did 10 runs a day without their bodies breaking down during a recent training camp at the 2010 Olympic sliding track in Whistler, B.C. In fact, they headed to the weight room after they left the track.

And it's all about the start in luge. The more power in their arms, backs and torsos, the more thrust they have on the pull and the paddle out of the start hut. Heavier sliders are also able to maintain their speed en route to the finish.

"If you're behind on the start, you're not going to make up time on the way down," Christie explained. "If you want to compete against the best in the world you have to be strong and not only strong, but flexible."

Germany dominates luge and the Canadian Luge Association poached Staudinger from the Germans' coaching staff last year to push the Canadians into the world's elite in time for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.

With the Games less than 16 months away, Staudinger is in hurry-up mode to prepare Canadians to compete for Olympic medals. Their physical fitness had to improve, he said.

"I would say we've increased the volume from the year before to now almost by 100 per cent," Staudinger said. "I was fortunate enough that I worked the last 15 years with the Germans in the national team program, so I know what they went through and how they trained and what programs they have and what they do.

"We've been doing this for one year. They've been doing it for 10 to 15 years. This was a crash course. It was extreme effort, extreme intensities."

The World Cup luge season opens Nov. 29 in Igls, Austria. Canada will host World Cup races Feb. 13-14 in Calgary and Feb. 20-21 at the Olympic venue in Whistler.

"It's going to be funny when we get to the first World Cup because I know some heads are going to turn," Cockerline said. "I was one of the smaller guys on the circuit and now I'll be bigger.

"There will be some head turning and people saying 'Wow, what are the Canadians doing? What is in the water back in Calgary?"'

Canada's luge team hasn't produced nearly as many World Cup or world championship medals as the two other two sliding sports - bobsleigh and skeleton.

Canadians have won three World Cup medals in individual races in the history of the sport, with Regan Lauscher's silver in 2004 the country's best result yet.

Lauscher, 28, wasn't able to participate in Staudinger's hard training regimen over the summer because she had surgery on both shoulders last spring.

"Competition-wise I don't plan on being back on the World Cup circuit until the New Year," Lauscher said. "Right now I'm going to focus on honing my skills on the track and doing what I can do that doesn't hinder my shoulder progression, and just trying to get stronger and catch up to where my teammates were in July and August."

The luge team heads to Lake Placid, N.Y., the site of the world championships Feb. 6-8, next week for more training runs and that's where the sliders will be able to compare their starts to other international competitors.

"I can't wait to test it," Christie said. "To get to Lake Placid and pull against the rest of the world to see if you have gone ahead . . . we're not expecting miracles.

"We're not expecting we're going to come out and smash everybody because they worked just as hard as we did and they've been doing that for the past 10 years and we've been doing it for one summer. We expect to make gains."

Edney, who was ninth at last year's world championships, wants to take his stronger body out for a spin and see how much closer to a World Cup medal he can get this season.

"It's a big year. For myself, I just cracked into the top 10 last year so this year I really want to be consistently in there," Edney said. "I would love to be on the podium and have the experience of being on the podium before Whistler.

"I think it's going to be critical to be in that mind state where you know you can be a podium contender, to really think that's possible in Vancouver."