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Luge brothers mimic comic strip heroes

Vicki Hall, Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Just call Chris and Mike Moffat the Calvin and Hobbes of the Canadian Olympic team.

On a daily basis, the Calgary brothers climb aboard a sled, and rip down a canyon of ice at speeds reaching 130 km/h -- just like comic-strip heroes Calvin, the mischievous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes the plush tiger, of the newspaper funny pages.

Some days, they soar. Other days, they crash.

Some days, they talk politics and religion. Other days, they bicker over who left the dirty socks on the floor in the hotel room.

But this is no joke. The Moffat brothers are determined to take their childhood pastime and turn it into Olympic glory next year in Whistler.

"The Olympics, to us, are still far away," said Chris 29, who alongside Mike was named to Canada's World Cup team on Monday. "We can qualify this year, which is good. And I'm pretty confident we will."

Even though Chris is playing hurt. The two-time Olympian had a screw removed from his wrist last month almost a year after the brothers demolished their sled on a training run in Germany.

"It was by far the best crash I ever had," Chris says, smirking at the memory.

"It was just a little mistake that turned into a big mistake," Mike said. "We ended up breaking the front end of the sled off and cracking the steering mechanism.

"It was spectacular. We were definitely in the air for a few seconds."

Chris broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist. Mike walked away with nothing but wounded pride.

Trust big brother to take the brunt.

"I do the bottom man's surf," Mike said.

"When we flip over, Chris is strapped in, and I'm stuck to the sled. So we're on top of him when we're sliding down the ice."

"Everybody stops on me," Chris groaned.

Chris figured the wrist might be sprained, but nothing serious.

So he raced for another three months on the World Cup circuit through Europe.

He returned home to Calgary, only to learn the extent of the damage.

"And then I had to wait another month for surgery, because we had to go to Whistler to try out the track," he said.

He finally went in for repairs in late March and spent the next six months in a cast.

"It's like he's been working to rule," Mike said. "I had to do all the paddling for a while there. It looked pretty funny."

Their chosen sport of luge doubles looks pretty funny to an outsider. Over the years, they've heard all kinds of off-colour jokes about two men in spandex suits lying on top of one another on a sled.

But this is a serious business. Chris and former doubles partner Eric Pothier placed fifth at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Mike and Grant Albrecht finished 12th.

After Salt Lake, the Moffat brothers went home to Calgary and packed up their sleds with every intention of leaving their childhood passion behind.

Chris turned his attention to coaching. Mike worked as a parole officer at a Calgary halfway house.

And then they had a bright idea. Who not race together?

After a three-year hiatus, the brothers hooked up and finished ninth at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

In the bigger picture, they saw the Italian experience as a training run for the ultimate test in Whistler in 2010.

"It's actually best, sliding with your brother," said Mike 26. "Both Chris and I have slid with other doubles partners before. The biggest thing is communication. And we know how to communicate."

In other words, they have no fear of offending one another. After all, they'll always be brothers.

"And we shared a room when were younger," Chris said.

So they learned how to negotiate their differences.

"We had a line down the middle of the room," Mike said. "I had the window on my side. He had the door to get out on his side.

"I remember having a bloody nose once when I was about seven. But that's the last time we really fought."

It all comes down to honesty.

"Really, it's just a matter of being able to call each other on things," Chris said. "Maybe you'll come right out and say something instead of being careful, like you would with someone who isn't family."

By choice, the brothers room together on the road. Mike is like Bert, of Sesame Street fame. Chris tends to be more like Ernie.

"If I organize things, I lose them," Chris said. "And then I can't find them, and I go nuts. I know the third jacket from the bottom is the one I need. I give Mike the coat hangers, because I know I won't use them."

Mike takes them, gladly.

"I have things hung up," he said.

"I put my pants away when I'm done with them. I have a dirty clothes bag, so everything is organized.

"I definitely like to fold and put away my stuff. Chris doesn't realize he wouldn't have to bring two bags when we travel if he just folded his stuff."

If they fight, they can always go home and have their differences settled by their father, Ed, who is also the president of the Canadian Luge

Association. "In the end," Chris said, "we still have mom and dad at home dropping the hammer."

Not to mention standing at the bottom of the hill to cheer them on.

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© The Calgary Herald 2008