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Christie part of strong luge team

Canadian World Cup squad posts impressive timesGary Kingston, Vancouver Sun
Published: Monday, November 10, 2008

After a week of summer camp at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park, where he was exposed to several new sports, then 11-year-old Jeff Christie told his mom he wanted to do ski jumping or luge.

"She wanted me to stay on the ground," he says with a big grin.

Mom probably figured it was safer.

So luge it was, though as Christie, now a national team veteran at age 25, remembers, "the first two or three years I got the crap kicked out of me.

"It's a sport you learn by getting knocked around for sure. I look back on it now and it's 'Wow, I got beat up pretty good.'"

He doesn't crash near as often as he did back then. But now that he's hitting speeds of 147 kilometres an hour on the 2010 Olympic track at Whistler, where the Canadian team is training this week, the body can still take a beating.

The G-force pressure exerted on a slider's body is similar to the G-force of a cornering Formula One car. And even safe as designers have made that chute, the odd bone-rattling spill is inevitable. It's why lugers have to be among the most flexible, physically fit athletes in the world. Strong and quick, too, for the critical push starts.

This year's eight-member Canadian World Cup team - three men, three women and the doubles tandem of brothers Chris and Mike Moffatt - is as physically strong as it's ever been after a first full off-season of training under head coach Wolfgang Staudinger, who was lured to Canada from Germany just before the 2007-08 season.

Christie, who was born in Vancouver but moved to Calgary as an infant, and Ian Cockerline of Calgary both said Monday that they have added four to five kilos of muscle after a summer of circuit and weight training, roller skiing and paddling wheel-equipped sleds on a track.

"In the past, maybe their priorities were not in the right spot," Staudinger, who worked for 15 years with the dominant Germans, said of the Canadian sliders. "They were working mostly on the equipment end and forgot that in athletics, even in luge where you don't run 100-metre sprints or anything, you've still got to be physically fit.

"I basically hit them hard in the face, told them the truth. 'If we don't shape up, we will shape out.'

"I wouldn't say they were in poor shape. They were in decent shape, but compared to the best in the world, where they want to be, there was a long ways to go."

During training a week ago at Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 2009 worlds, the Canadians, who have often struggled to just break into the top 10 on the World Cup circuit, were posting start times similar to that of the world's best.

"We were always strong, we just weren't luge-specific strong," said Christie. [Staudinger's] brought so many little things to work on. It's amazing how much it's helped."

Christie said that given Staudinger's history, including having coached two-time world champion David Moeller, it was easy to buy in. "Wolfgang always says 'if you disagree, if you don't believe what I'm saying, you can tell me. But then I will tell you why I am right.'"

Christie, who was 15th overall on the World Cup circuit last season and who owns a career-best fifth-place finish, said he doesn't want to put too much pressure on himself by setting unrealistically high goals this season. But asked if he'd like to finally crack the podium, he was blunt.

"Heck yeah, I'd love to. The goal for us is to podium here in 2010, so the normal progression for that would be to get a podium this year. That would really boost my confidence. You get one and it's 'Hey, I can.'"

Sam Edney of Calgary, who was ninth at last year's world championships, is the other member of the men's team. The women's squad is led by two-time Olympian Regan Lauscher, although the Red Deer, Alta., native may not be with the squad in Igls, Austria, for the World Cup opener on Nov. 29 as she continues to work on strengthening shoulders that were operated on in the off-season.

Calgary's Meaghan Simister and Alex Gough are the other members of the women's team.

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© Vancouver Sun 2008