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Canada's luge team hopes for trick of the trade to make them faster

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Feb 15, 2009

CALGARY — Shut out of World Cup medals on its home track, Canada's luge team anxiously awaits an alteration to its indoor training facility that could get the squad closer to the podium.

When the sliders launch from the start hut in a race, they paddle hard with their hands before lying flat on their sleds. The start is crucial in luge because it's where competitors generate speed for the trek down the track.

The entry ramp at Canada Olympic Park's Ice House in Calgary, where sliders practise their starts in the summer, is long enough for only one or two paddles when five or six is required in an actual race.

The Canadians feel they're at a disadvantage to world luge powers Germany and Italy when it comes to off-season training.

"What I lack in this sport is a fast start," said Alex Gough, whose sixth-place finish in the women's race was Canada's best result during the weekend's World Cup in Calgary.

The 2008-'09 World Cup luge season concludes Friday and Saturday with races on the Olympic track in Whistler, B.C.

The luge team needs the Ice House ramp extended by about 10 metres to improve its starts in time for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. Off-season training begins at the end of March.

"If over the summer I can pick up on my starts and get within a few more hundredths on the top starters in the world . . . I could definitely be up there," said Gough. "That little bit of extra speed I could get at the start, having that sort of facility that we could train on, will definitely improve my chances."

The 21-year-old from Calgary posted Canada's best result ever at a world championship this year by finishing fourth despite start times that ranked her seventh.

Canada has never won an Olympic or world championship medal in luge. Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, Alta., is the only slider on the current squad to win a World Cup medal and that was almost five years ago in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Canada has set a goal of winning the most medals in 2010 and that means beating Germany, which topped the standings with 29 at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.

The sliding sports will be a major battlefield as any medal won by Canada takes one away from Germany.

The top-10 men at the Calgary World Cup all finished within a second of winner Armin Zoeggeler of Italy. Calgary's Jeff Christie was 17th.

Christie said the two luge starts in the refrigerated Ice House "weren't built with any idea in mind when it came to being applicable to luge on the luge track," and renovating them is a must.

"Not only do we want it, we need it," Christie said. "Without it, we won't be able to pull the starts that we need to pull to achieve what we need to achieve in Vancouver.

"We needed it yesterday."

Luge Canada executive director Tim Farstad thinks it can be done although perhaps not as quickly as the sliders want it.

He's waiting for approval of a grant from the Alberta government and says Own The Podium money and Luge Canada would pay for the rest of the $160,000 project.

"The hope is to get it done mid-May," Farstad said.

When Wolfgang Staudinger was hired away from the German team to coach the Canadians in 2007, he identified that Ice House start ramp as a problem.

"I compare it with a sprinter that comes out of the blocks and is supposed to run 100 metres, but the track he practises on is only 20 metres long," Staudinger said. "Right now, we're not in a position to accelerate to where we can be competitive with the top of the world. To actually go into medal contention, we need another five-hundredths of a second and for that you need specific training.

"If I cannot train specific, I have no chance. I'm not looking for an excuse here. All our competitors do it. We want to compete on the same level so we need the same tools."