Luge Canada

Podium finishes unlikely, despite home-track advantage

Alex Gough placed fourth at the recent world championship.By Gary Kingston, Canwest News Service
February 19, 2009

Canadian luge athletes may have already taken more than 150 runs each on the sliding track at Whistler, but don't expect that intimate knowledge to instantly make them podium contenders at this weekend's FIL World Cup.

"We're not going to turn the luge world upside down," said a realistic Meaghan Simister of Regina. "The Germans are going to go fast, the Italians and the Austrians are going to go fast, no ifs and buts about it.

"Hopefully, all our work will allow us to be more consistent and not make as many mistakes, but the luge world is not going to turn on its head."

And besides, one head-turning spin a decade is about it for luge, where change happens about as often as Canuck Kyle Wellwood finds the penalty box.

In luge, that happened at the world championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., two weeks ago, when American Erin Hamil ended the German women's 99-race winning streak in Olympic, worlds and World Cup competition.

It was also where rising star Alex Gough of Calgary recorded a stunning fourth-place finish in, it must be noted, just her second race at the 1980 Olympic track.

"It did surprise me," the 21-year-old slider said Wednesday from Whistler. "I'd had a tough week, crashing [in training] and not putting two runs together until race day.

"I had a good first run, though, and when I finished and saw my name in fifth my stomach did a flip-flop and I was like 'Oh, no.' But then I thought I'm really in a good spot. I just took a step back and said 'just do this all over again and take it from there.'"

She said there was a very brief moment of disappointment at not cracking the podium, but "it was such a huge result for me. I was ecstatic about it."

Gough followed up last Friday with a career World Cup-best sixth at her home track in Calgary.

"Definitely a breakthrough year for her," Walter Corey, the team's high-performance director, said in Calgary. "But any time you get closer and closer to the podium, the war gets harder and harder to win, that's for sure."

Gough said she's anxious to get back on the Whistler track, which is trickier than what the sliders faced at Canada Olympic Park.

"It's a faster track with more technical parts and you have to be a little more on the ball," Gough said.

"Calgary does have those long straightaways where it's easy to mess up and cause some problems, but Whistler is more you've got to hit the corners the right way and any little mistake just compounds the whole way down."

Said teammate Sam Edney, of the only two sliding tracks in Canada: "Calgary is a gliding track; Whistler is definitely a speed track. You can't just lie there and hope for the best."

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