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Germans' loss gives hope to Canadian lugers

By Marc Weber, Canwest News Service
February 19, 2009

VANCOUVER - Anything is possible.

It's handy rhetoric for athletes, but it tends to ring hollow when confronted by a 99-race German win streak.

American Erin Hamlin's luge world championship win two weeks ago, then, was no small moment - and not just for the U.S. team.

It was awesome, said Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger, the former Olympic bronze medallist who was plucked from the German coaching ranks in 2007 thanks to Own The Podium cash. This should encourage our entire team.

Staudinger has cautioned against high expectations for the Viessmann Luge World Cup stop in Whistler, B.C., Friday and Saturday.

He's careful to temper Olympic medal talk around Alex Gough of Calgary, the 21-year-old rising women's star whose fourth-place finish at those world championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., placed her firmly on the map.

But he did admit that Hamlin's win gives him even more hope that Gough can breakthrough by the 2010 Winter Olympic games in Vancouver.

Erin is a lot like Alex, he said. A good slider with a lot of potential and she used her home field advantage to the max. It shows you that anything is possible from anybody.

There is, of course, a lot of work to be done between now and then.

Another summer of rigorous strength and endurance training and practising the crucial start sequence, then another 150 to 200 training runs to become intimate with the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The Canadians hope to have logged around 400 runs in Whistler by the Olympics.

Staudinger confirmed that funding is in place for a proper start ramp at the Calgary Ice House, which is essential.

The team member have been limited to a five-metre strip to practise their pulls and paddles, which the coach compared to a 100-metre sprinter practicing on 20 to 30 metres of track.

He might be explosive out of the blocks, he said, but he will never perform at 100 metres.

The team has resorted to ice rinks and running tracks with wheels on their sleds, but neither flat surface replicates the start slope.

It's a huge handicap and you cannot just overcome it.

Gough has done a pretty good job of overcoming setbacks. She missed all of 2007-08 after breaking an ankle in a training crash and has surprised even herself with four top-10 World Cup finishes.

I kind of came back with not a whole lot of expectations, she said. (Seventh place in December at) Winterberg, Germany, was a huge surprise. To come back with another top 10 was another surprise.

I have more confidence in my ability to be consistent. That's huge because I used to have one nice run and the next wouldn't be anything to write home about.

Staudinger said a top-eight finish is realistic for Gough, but in a field that features four Germans, he also put success in simpler terms: To beat one German is great.
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