Luge Canada

3 amigos on ice

Canada's men's luge team has forged a brotherhood in fast lanes around the worldGeorge Johnson, Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, February 15, 2009

They refer to themselves as the Bros With Different Mos.

"None of us have any biological brothers,' says Jeff Christie. "But we each have a sister. Weird coincidence, eh?'

As Sam Edney says: "It's as if we're making up for lost time. These guys are my best friends. The brothers I never had. I guess I had to get into luge to see what I'd missed.'

Ian Cockerline figures DNA testing might show the bond to be thicker than blood.

"One of the three families ought to adopt the other two guys and just make it legal.'

The three of them have musketeered and stooged their way throughout Europe together for the past five years, alighting in such far-flung spots as Konigsee, Alterberg and Oberhof, Germany, and Igls, Austria.

"Five years . . .' muses Edney. "I only wish I'd been able to hang on to a girlfriend that long.'

They drink beer together. Chat up frauleins together. Compete against, and for, each other. Push each other. Rejoice and commiserate together. They buckle on their helmets, climb aboard their luge sleds, hurtle down the track at insane speeds and then bundle themselves into a rented vehicle for the drive to the next World Cup stop. Where the process begins anew.

"It's really not glamorous at all,' confesses Christie. "We're comfortable, don't get me wrong, but there's two or three of us in a room and we're not exactly staying in the Sheraton, piling up the points for a free stay. It's all about training, competing and moving on.'

They have a blast. Largely because they have each other.

"When you're stuck in a van with another guy for up to 12 hours,' says Cockerline, "you'd better get along with him.'

As if they didn't get sick enough of each other over the course of a luge season, during the summer they work out together. Some years, two of them hook up for vacation. Sam and Jeff taught Ian to ski (sort of; they actually left him, terror-stricken, at the top of the hill in Fernie to fend for himself). For a lark, Cockerline and Christie tried out the two-man bobsleigh.

"Luge to bobsleigh? Easy, right?' recounts Ian. "I wish. At one point, the sled just . . . flipped. We're up in the air, then we're upside down and I remember hanging on for dear life and thinking 'Where's Jeff? Where's Jeff? Is Jeff dead?' I couldn't see him. I had no idea where he was; what had happened to him. The sled finally slides to a stop, and then he there is, in one piece, asking me: 'Dude, are you OK?' I said 'Dude, are YOU OK?' Not a scratch on either of us. Then we looked at each other and started laughing so hard the tears were running down our cheeks.

"The bobsleigh guys thought we were insane.'

They've even developed, in a sense, their own BWDM's language through word triggers.

"For instance, when one of us is pissing the other two off, getting on everyone's nerves, acting like a real goof, all you have to say is 'Black eye',' reveals Christine. "It's a warning signal. To back off or shut up or lay low. Like, 'Sam! Black eye!' The implications are fairly obvious.'

Sam and Ian, both Calgarians, are 24, Jeff, from Vancouver, is 25.

In terms of success, Christie's the furthest along, mere fractions of a second away from that quantum leap from contender to podium. A part of the senior national team circuit for two more seasons than his bros, he's developed into a top 10 in the world. Edney and Cockerline are in the 15-20 range, and working their tails off to make up ground.

The healthy competition aspect of the relationship extends into the off-season. If, say, Edney puts an additional five pounds on the bench-press bar at the gym, the other two -- no matter how tired or how disinterested they might be on a particular day -- view it as a challenge that cannot, under any circumstances, be ignored.

"Luge is a highly individualized sport,' says Cockerline, "but we seem to be progressing together, as a group, too. When Jeff takes a step forward, say from top 20 to top 10, Sam and I go from top 25 to top 20 or 15. That's where the pushing each other has been so beneficial to all three of us.'

This forged bond has endured -- no, strengthened -- over the years largely because of a sense of propriety. After races, no matter who's had a difficult day and who's enjoyed a profitable one, the interaction remains the same. None of the three can remember a major blow-up. Oh, the odd petty grievance, the odd perceived slight, certainly. Those can't be helped, under the circumstances.

But nothing serious enough to undermine the harmony of the whole.

"Three is probably the perfect number,' reasons Edney. "That way, there's always a peacemaker. "The mood is always light.' On occasion, lighter than expected.

Or, in one case, appreciated. At a Winterberg, Germany, stop, one day, Christie and Cockerline tiptoed into the shared hotel room while Edney was in the tub, stripped off all the bed linens, stole his clothes and anything left in his suitcase then burst into the bathroom and confiscated all towels and face cloths, and ran, cackling merrily, out to dump the lot at the end of the hallway.

"All we left him,' crows Cockerline, "was a small roll of toilet paper! He used it as, you know, a fig leaf to hide his, uh . . . but he had to venture out into the hallway to retrieve something to properly cover himself up.'

Best bar on the circuit? Well, Ian opts for So-and-So's in Oberhof, Jeff chooses MoJo's in Whistler and Sam is partial to a tiny hole-in-the-wall place in Innsbruck under the railway tracks that he can't remember the name of.

Music of choice to while away the hours in those rented vans? Sam: Edges of Death. Jeff: Kanye West. Ian: "Probably Collective Soul,' reports Christie. "In which case, no one would complain.'

Rivals. Protagonists. Teammates. Pals.

"Maybe,' reasons Christie, "we've been forced to be friends. Because if we were enemies, we'd have killed each other by now.'

Ahead, now becoming plainly visible on the horizon, is Vancouver 2010, and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to become a national celebrity on home turf. A moment all three of these men have thought about, often, during the long drives from stop to stop these past five years.

Sitting on the third-place perch of the Calgary World Cup stop podium, inside a deserted Ice House out at Canada Olympic Park, Sam Edney is asked how he'd feel if Christie or Cockerline wound up on one of those coveted three steps in Vancouver, basking in the blazing spotlight of Olympic glory, and he did not.

"It'd be complicated,' he finally answers. "The competitive side of me would be saying 'Why isn't that me up there?' I'd do anything for either of those guys. But I also want to be faster than either of them. In any race.

"But I'd be happy, thrilled, too. And I know Ian or Jeff would be just as happy if it was me on the podium. Whoever got the medal, I think in a way it'd seem like the other two played a part in it. That it was shared. I know there'd be a lot of hugging, then a few beers and we'd all go out and party.

"Sounds a bit strange, I guess. "But that's what friends do.' What brothers do, too.

© The Calgary Herald 2009