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Canadian lugers look for home advantage

By Scott Cruickshank, Calgary Herald February 12, 2009

CALGARY - The moment the World Cup schedule came out, so, too, did the red Sharpies.

The Canadian contingent, at a glance, isolated the International Luge Federation's stop in Calgary - Feb. 13 and 14 - and commenced circling.

Home dates are not to be overlooked.

This weekend's sliding is no different.

They're vital to our program, Walter Corey, high-performance director of the Canadian Luge Association, said of events on familiar turf. Any race at home is greeted with great anticipation. Historically, I would say that our home tracks are where we seem to perform well. People just love to race at home.

So it's such a nice highlight in an athlete's career to come and race at home and show off their skills in front of friends and family.

As a program, we really earmark these events as areas where we should see some of our best results of the season.

The Canadians have only strutted their stuff in front of strangers - in Austria, in Latvia, in Germany, in Italy - this season.

But racing in Calgary, their training base, with all eyes upon them - will that ratchet the expectations into the red zone?

It-s all in the approach, said Corey. People can say the pressure's maybe higher at home, but these guys have been racing here for years. It's home, right? They're used to the surroundings, they're used to the food, they're used to the ambience. It's very familiar for them. The athletes, as much as they mentally and physically get up for racing on the road, at home . . . it's a little bit more.

Besides, if the weight is too much to bear now - just a wait 12 months.

Because the end goal, of course, is the Winter Olympics. For this gang, that's Whistler. B.C. (which, by the way, hosts next week's World Cup finale). Open on the Canadian squad are 10 slots - three singles each for men and women, plus two doubles teams.

There's an incredible buzz at the moment, leading towards 2010, said Corey, adding that the selection process began last weekend at the world championships in Lake Placid, N.Y. Our program's probably not unlike a lot of (national sport organizations) - the road to Whistler leads through Calgary. This is our home base. We want to use this race as a springboard for . . . next week.

Starting Friday, Calgary will welcome the sport's cream.

The field here is very close to the Olympic field, said Corey. Any time there's a World Cup race in Calgary, it's definitely international profile - the best sliders in the world.

In particular, traditional powerhouses - Germany, Austria, Italy - will be present.

The Germans have had a history of significant dominance, said Corey. There's a bunch of reasons for it, but they've got four tracks and a population of 80 million.

This weekend won't shy of drama.

The track here ensures that.

Every venue has its own rhythm, said Corey. Calgary, traditionally, is a venue that would be relatively safe to navigate. There's not a lot of huge spills here. It's quite safe and easy . . . but the reality is, it's very difficult to win. Its high technical (component) . . . mean little things make a large difference here to get to the podium.

You still need a nice start, good position, good lines, good sled, but the reality is, races are a lot tighter in Calgary.

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