VANCOUVER 2010 WORLD CUP REVIEW: Canadians pin hopes on run volume
February 23, 2009
WHISTLER, B.C -- By the end of the FIL luge World Cup this weekend, Canada's game plan for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was clear.
The powerful sliders from Germany - men, women and doubles - handled the track at Whistler Sliding Centre with aplomb, winning all three disciplines and saying the course suited the best of the best because it is ridiculously fast and highly technical.
"That's good for us," Germany's Natalie Geisenberger said after winning the women's race last Friday. "Maybe for some other athletes it's a little bit dangerous, but I like it very, very much."
But it was also evident that many sliders in the midfield struggled with the demanding track, which could play into Canadian hands come 2010 Winter Games.
Print Edition - Section Front
Luge Canada senses the opening. And one year from now, with some consistency, some calamity, and some divine intervention, a Canadian might be able to contend for a medal.
"I'm hoping for the unexpected," Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger said. "With a little bit of God's help, we should be okay."
Men's and women's Olympic luge calls for four runs, not two like at World Cup races. Canadians are going to have to put down three consistent runs and put themselves in position to challenge for a podium on the fourth and final slide. That's the first step.
The second step calls for calamity.
It is probably unrealistic to believe that a Canadian can win a medal if all the top sliders get through four runs unscathed. But the Whistler Sliding Centre is so unpredictable, and so capable of causing crashes, that if several top sliders get derailed by its high-speed corners, than Canadians could be in contention.
That's where run volume comes into play. Lugers do not steer based on vision. They steer based on feel and course familiarity. Canadians are going to receive more than 300 runs on the B.C. track by next February, whereas international sliders will have about 40.
"We're going to get run volume, and that's definitely going to let us compete more on a level playing field with them than when we go to their tracks where they've slid their entire lives," Calgary's Jeff Christie said after finishing 13th. "This is going to be a consistency race."
An example of what the Canadians hope for occurred during the second run of the men's race on Saturday. The track conditions changed markedly from the first run because the sun had gone down, the temperature had plummeted and the ice became much harder.
An Austrian and a Latvian were both in striking distance of a podium when they had trouble with the changing condition, made huge mistakes on their second runs and finished well down the field.
If that happens to enough athletes in 2010, the Canadians could surprise because the combination of greater familiarity and an unforgiving track leads Staudinger to conclude that "anything is possible."
"It opens up the field," he said. "It opens up the track for someone to hope."
And hope is where the Canadian chances stand unless they make some improvements by next year.
Calgary's Alex Gough authored the best result with a seventh place in the women's race this weekend. Brothers Chris and Mike Moffatt, also of Calgary, were ninth in doubles. In the men's event, Calgary's Sam Edney was 12th.
Staudinger says the Canadian goal for the Vancouver Olympics is to place a woman and a doubles team in the top eight, and to have a man finish in the top 10. He said speeds will climb a little bit in the coming year based on technical improvements, which could further enhance Canadian chances because it could add to the fear factor at Whistler.
Already, Staudinger said the Whistling Sliding Centre has allowed luge to reach its speed limits.
Germany's Felix Loch, who finished third, set a track record by travelling 153.93 kilometres per hour on Saturday. That was nearly 1 km/h faster than the track record, set by Latvia's four-man bobsleigh team earlier this month.
"In the sport of luge, you will see a lot of slips and slides and turnovers and [athletes falling] off the sleds, but nobody is getting injured and that's the key thing for us," said Craig Lehto, director of the Whistler Sliding Centre. "The sport wants to go fast. It's about speed. It's all about speed. The track has ended up exactly where we wanted it to end up."