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Lugers selling themselves to highest corporate bidder

VANCOUVER - FOR SALE: One luge team. Lots of miles but not much in the way of medals.Gary Kingston, Canwest News Service
Published: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Filled with clean-cut Canadian kids. Lags behind bobsled and skeleton in terms of profile and name recognition, but athletes are sure to get more face time over the next 12 months in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics.

Added bonus: Recently launched web series about luge, love and the allure of spandex could make the supine sliding sport the hottest thing on refrigerated tracks since those crazy Jamaican bobsledders turned themselves upside down in Calgary in 1988.

That's right, the Canadian team will be sporting FOR SALE' signs on the front of their helmets at Whistler,_B.C., this weekend in a bold, if somewhat cheesy, bid to attract a corporate sponsor.

The Canadian sliders began their sponsorship appeal a week ago at a community tobogganing event in Calgary and it's already generating some buzz.

"We've had some people kicking the tires," says Tim Farstad, Luge Canada's executive director.

Not only have the Canadian bobsled ($1.3 million) and skeleton ($921,000) teams received more from Own the Podium than luge ($600,000), but with Olympic medallists like Pierre Lueders, Mellisa Hollingsworth and Jeff Pain, they've also attracted a significant title sponsor in VISA.

Canada has never won an Olympic or world championship medal in luge and Regan Laushcer is the only slider on the current squad to win a World Cup medal, that coming five years ago.

Farstad said he's optimistic that some company will step forward with $300,000 next season "to give us a boost to 2010" and perhaps develop a longer term plan.

He said the tire-kickers include companies connected with speed or going fast, "something that makes sense with our sport."

Men's team slider Sam Edney of Calgary says it's a unique opportunity for a Canadian company to partner with a sport that is a part of life growing up.

"Everyone has gone down a toboggan hill," he says. "We're trying to tie into that. And for the corporate sponsor, it's more than just advertising, it's a partnership that will hopefully help someone get onto the podium in 2010."

A sponsor's money could go towards the planned renovation of the luge start ramp at the indoor Icehouse training facility in Calgary. It's only long enough now for athletes to get one or two paddles with their hands; they need a start ramp that replicates the starts at Whistler and those in Europe, one where they can get five or six paddles.

"It's crucial," said Edney. "The start is the biggest part of the run, where you build that velocity that you carry the whole way down the track. We need to be beating the Germans (on the start) to have that advantage."

Luge Canada, which must come up with some of project's $160,000 cost itself, is currently waiting on a grant from the Alberta government to begin the renovations. Farstad hopes his sliders can be training on the new ramp by June.

Now, back to that comedic web series, which can be viewed on www.ilovealuger.com and carries this disclaimer: WARNING: This web series is a gratuitous celebration of luge and inappropriate spandex. May contain nuts!"

It's the first project of the newly formed In Series Media of Toronto, and inspired by partner, Lynne Kamm, who says she always "secretly wanted to meet a luger. I mean who hurtles their body down a track like that?"

The plot, written by Kamm, has Nikki, played by an actress who answered an intriguing casting call, falling in love from afar with a foreign luge athlete. Nikki will be seen trying to get into "pseudo" Olympic facilities to try to find ways to give her man the edge. The series will continue through to 2010 with Nikki trying to sabotage the Canadian team so her man, whom she is convinced she will marry in Whistler, can win gold.

Canadian team members are likely to make cameo appearances along the way.

"They're all hot, they're hilarious," says Kamm, who adds the site is already generating feedback from bloggers and lugers from around the world.

One recent bit with Nikki dressed in one of those skin-tight sliding suits is also popping up on spandex fetish sites everywhere.

"Who knew spandex was so popular," laughs Kamm.

Women's team slider Meaghan Simister of Regina says the stuff so far is "definitely entertaining" and she's keen to make a cameo.

Vancouver Sun
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