Luge Canada

Hard work paying off for luge racer Gough

VANCOUVER - Canadian luge coach Wolfgang Staudinger isn't one to make loud boasts about the abilities of his athletes.

Ask him about his team's medal chances in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., and he'll tell you that although the team has potential, it may be overly optimistic to start predicting medals.

But ask him about 21-year-old Calgary slider Alex Gough and the Staudinger's eyes light up.

Gough, who missed most of the 2007-08 season with an ankle injury, is riding a streak of three consecutive top-10 World Cup performances.

Alex is doing her job, Staudinger, a veteran of the ridiculously successful German program said this week in an interview from Oberhof, Germany, where the team competes this weekend.

Alex isn't screwing around with any negatives. She does what's laid out for her.

Everything you tell her, she does it. She's a very quiet lady, inexperienced, very young. But I have to give her credit. I compare her with Sylke Otto.

Otto dominated the sport, winning the gold medal at both the 2002 and 2006 Olympics before retiring in 2007.

It feels pretty good, Gough said when told of her coach's comparisons. It shows me what kind of potential he thinks I have. It gives me something to aspire to. She was one of the best and probably always will be.

Gough opened the season with a 39th- and 15th-place finishes before nailing a career-best seventh-place finish at Winterberg, Germany, on Dec. 13. She was ninth in Konigsee, Germany, on Jan. 3 and then seventh again on the 2006 Olympic track at Cesana, Italy, on Jan. 9.

It surprises me a little bit, said Gough, who finished 20th at the 2006 Turin Olympics and competed on the 2005-06 and 2006-07 World Cup circuits, of her success this season. I was out last year with an injury and I came into this season not knowing what to expect. I'd previously been top-20, maybe top-15 so to have three top-10 finishes in a row is really spectacular for me. It just makes me hungrier for more.

Gough credits some of her success to a demanding off-season training program that Staudinger implemented. Hired in the summer of 2007 by the Canadian Luge Association with money provided by the Own the Podium 2010 program, Staudinger - who's married to former Canadian Olympic luger Marie-Claude Doyon - has the Canadians doing more training runs. It's the German model adapted for Canadians.

Said Gough: We've done a huge volume of runs and that helps you just slide on instinct and be consistent. Once you've done your 10th or 11th run of the day you're so tired and your body just reacts and it helps with gaining that instinct for sliding.

I've been working very hard and I made some big jumps in getting my starts faster and putting two consistent runs together. That was a problem for me in the past.

Alex has the potential to do well in Whistler, but I would never, never ever say that she's a medal person, Staudinger said. You cannot say that but potentially it's there.

Gough likely won't reach her potential until the 2014 Olympics. Staudinger can only hope she'll stay in the sport that long.

If Alex quits on me I'm losing a raw diamond that hasn't been polished, said Staudinger. If she stays until 2014 all the doors are open but that's the thing. How do I assure that Alex goes on to 2014?

It sounds like he doesn't have much to worry about.

On good days, yes, she said when asked if she thinks she'll hang in until 2014. When it's not going well, not so much. But I think I probably will stick around.

I'm the youngest here now on the Canadian team, said Gough. It's only four more years (after 2010).

Sounds almost Otto-matic, doesn't it?

Vancouver Province

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