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Ice House revamp essential, says Christie

Start ramp at COP training facility considered inadequateBy Vicki Hall, Calgary Herald
January 21, 2009

Jeff Christie envisions no luge medals for the home country at the 2010 Winter Olympics, should renovations not be fast-tracked to the Icehouse at Canada Olympic Park.

"We have zero chance, says Christie, who placed 14th in men's singles at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. This is more than a competitive disadvantage.

At issue is the side-by-side luge start ramp in Calgary's Icehouse, the off-season training centre for Canada's bobsleigh, luge and skeleton teams.

Most tracks on the World Cup circuit have an acceleration area of 15 to 20 metres before hitting the first turn. At the Ice House, the first turn comes within an estimated five metres.

If they don't upgrade it, we are 100 per cent at a competitive disadvantage, said national team coach Wolfgang Staudinger, a German lured to Canada in the summer of 2007. We can't practise one of the most important components of the sport.

It's like when a figure skater practises his jumps on hockey skates. He has no chance. He can't jump. We can slide, but we can't start. For us, this is a big issue, and it needs to be done.

Staudinger first flagged the need for renovations upon signing on as the Canadian coach through the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

He dispatched his athletes to the nearby Bowness Arena last summer so they could at least practise their starts on an ice surface that didn't curve.

The cost to renovate the Ice House ramp is estimated at $155,000. Own the Podium has committed $60,000 to the project. The Canadian Luge Association has put aside $20,000 and applied for a $75,000 Alberta government grant to cover the remainder The chances are looking very good that this is going ahead, said Tracy Cobb, director of communications and stakeholder relations for the Canadian Olympic Development Association. But the final confirmation on the grant hasn't come in yet.

Based on receiving (the grant), we're hoping to start construction on this within two weeks, Cobb said.

Construction can't start soon enough for Staudinger.

It's extremely slow process, he said. On stuff like this for a home Olympic Games, you've got to act. You can't talk.

For us, in Olympic preparation, this is crucial. I don't need the start ramp in September. By then, it's too late.

Canada's top sliders are scheduled to hit the Ice House in late April to launch their Olympic training It's like sending car in for repair, Staudinger said. The dealership has a sales department and an accounting department but no service department. There's no one to service your car. We have one important department missing. All our guys are strong like bulls. They're sliding half decently. But we're starting too slow.

In more ways than one, Christie said.

The start in luge is one of the most important parts, he said, taking a break from preparing for this weekend's World Cup. You can capitalize on any velocity you gain in the start.

The ramp in Calgary, it doesn't accurately represent any start ramp in the world.

Including the one in Whistler.

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