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It's all about the view

A lot of spectators see only a blur, but chances of witnessing a crash are goodBy Gary Kingston, Canwest News Service
February 23, 2009

The 'I love a luger' website that popped up a couple of weeks ago is getting a lot of Internet mileage. But being at the Whistler Sliding Centre on the weekend got us wondering: From a pure spectator standpoint, Can you can love luge?

The fact the spandex-clad human missiles reached dizzying, record-setting speeds of 153 kilometres-an-hour plus while risking limbs -- and perhaps other appendages -- in Saturday's men's World Cup would seem to hold some appeal.

And like those wreck-anticipating NASCAR fans, some were undoubtedly there for the inevitable -- a slider spilling off his sled, something that happened several times over the course of two runs on the technically demanding track that now is the world's fastest.

But when you're standing, in some places, just a couple of metres from the ice-covered concrete chute, can those nanosecond-short blurs whizzing by really be that exciting.

Apparently, the answer is yes if the reaction from many of the 3,000 mostly first-timers who took in the pre-Olympic event is an indication.

There was plenty of wide-eyed amazement and several choruses of "Ooooh" and "Wow!"

"Oh God, he almost came off," exclaimed one woman as she recoiled from the railing, apparently fearful the slider was coming at her.

"How do you learn that?" asked another.

"Man, I could watch that all day," said one young guy after a slider flew by. He then added, incredulously, of the supine sliders, "They can't see a thing."

Many were laughing as they tried vainly -- "One, two, three, NOW!" -- to catch the blurs on their cameras. Most just ended up with shots of empty track.

The best viewing spot Saturday was in the sweeping final corner where the spectators stationed there could also view the only on-site video screen showing a slider's full run. More Jumbotrons are expected to be used during the Olympics when spectator capacity will be 12,000.

One of the most interested observers on Saturday was Canadian men's downhiller Manuel Osborne-Paradis, a frequent gym training partner in Calgary of Canadian sliders Jeff Christie and Sam Edney. It was Osborne-Paradis' first live look at luge.

"This is awesome, pretty sweet," said Manny. "I like how you can get so close to the action. I would be kind of pissed off if somebody got this close as I was speeding down a downhill."

A noted risk-taker -- Manny also surfs and rides downhill mountain bikes -- Osborne-Paradis said he'd love to give luge a try, although not on a full track at 150 kilometres an hour.

"We're all impressed with each other's sports," said a grinning Christie. "Last year, we had an opportunity to go to Kitzbuehel and watch [the downhillers] and we think they're nuts. And they come out here and think we're absolutely nuts.

"Yeah, I can ski, he can luge. Whether we can do it at the level each other does it, probably not."

And certainly not at the level of a David Moeller or Armin Zoeggler.

Moeller, a two-time world champion from Germany, won the FIL World Cup season finale with a two-run combined time of one minute, 33.919 seconds.

"It's a very fast track . . . and it's so tough to make the bottom part," said Moeller. "We had almost 155 kilometres an hour. There's no chance for mistakes."

The Italian Zoeggeler, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, was second in 1:33.938. He had already clinched the overall World Cup title -- his eighth -- with a win in Calgary the previous weekend.

Felix Loch, a 19-year-old German who won the 2009 world championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., two weeks ago, was third.

But he claimed the title of the world's fastest luger, reaching a speed of 153.93 kilometres an hour in a sizzling second run of 46.808.

That eclipsed the 153.03 recorded in the World Cup four-man bobsleigh event two weeks previous. The fastest skeleton racer during that event went 140.82 kph.

Both FIL and Vanoc officials said they were delighted to see the top lugers go over 150 kph. Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger doubts speeds can get much faster.

"We certainly reached the limit."

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