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Germany's Huefner wins World Cup luge gold; Canada's Gough sixth

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Feb 13, 2009

CALGARY — German women re-established their dominance in international luge and Canadian Alex Gough continued to knock on the door of the world's elite by finishing sixth at the Viessman World Cup in Calgary on Friday.

World Cup overall leader Tatjana Huefner and German teammate Natalie Geisenberger won gold and silver respectively in a heavy snowfall at Canada Olympic Park. Austrian Veronika Halder prevented a German sweep by finishing third ahead of Anke Wischnewski.

Huefner posted a two-run time of one minute 35.178 seconds with Geisenberger .188 seconds behind. Halder's time was 1:35.386.

Germany's winning streak of 99 straight women's races, which included World Cups, Olympics and world championships, was snapped at last week's world championships when American Erin Hamlin took the title in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Germany routinely sweeps the women's luge podium so Geisberger's lone silver in Lake Placid was a shock to the team.

Huefner, a two-time world champion, defended the title she won last year in Calgary. She felt that she and the rest of the German team were back on track with their first, second and fourth on Friday.

"Last week I was not very happy because of the world championships and not able to get a medal and now I'm very happy," Huefner said. "I like this track. I think we are good friends.

"It was very difficult conditions today because of snow on the track and the sled don't feel like it does without snow."

Gough was .444 seconds back of Huefner. The 21-year-old from Calgary was fourth in last week's world championship, for Canada's best result in that event. Her sixth Friday was her career best on the World Cup circuit.

"I feel like I can be there and if I put down two really clean runs and pick up on my start over the summer and get within a few more hundredths of the top starters in the world . . . I can could definitely be up there," Gough said.

Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, Alta., was 12th and Calgarians Meaghan Simister and Kimberley McRae were 18th and 20th respectively.

Huefner, Wischnewski and Geisenberger held down the first three spots after the opening run and Gough was fifth.

Snowfall increased during the race, which Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger said worked against Gough and her sled set-up.

"We went in a little bit of a different direction for smoother ice and the snowfall handicapped us a little bit," Staudinger said. "Maybe a little bit of my mistake because I went in the wrong direction, so we could have done possibly a little better.

"For the little screw-up on my side, the sixth place was an excellent finish. She put down another solid performance of two runs just like at worlds. She's cool, she's doing it and I'm very happy with the sixth place.

"It makes me very happy that I have one athlete that is able to do that."

Lauscher, a World Cup silver medallist in Lake Placid in 2004, was frustrated after her second run and feeling stressed about next year's Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

The veteran and long-timer leader of the women's team started racing just last month after having surgery on both shoulders last summer. But the 28-year-old also wants the coaching staff to pay more attention to the setup of her sled because she feels time is running out.

"Equipment obviously plays a very big role in this sport and all the physical training in the world and all the strength in the world, if you don't have what you need underneath your ass, the clock's not going to be in your favour," Lauscher said. "It's a group effort and everybody needs to be putting in the same effort.

"I understand I've had two shoulder surgeries and it takes time, but I feel like given my start time and my sliding today, this place isn't fair."

Staudinger says it's not inattention to Lauscher's sled, but last summer's surgery that hampers her.

"I can tell you we do the same for everybody else," he said. "More attention I don't think would solve the problem.

"Her handicap is simply still the injury and she just can't perform 100 per cent at the start and that shows on the track. If she makes small little mistakes that slows her down more and that's why she's where she's at the moment."

The men's singles and doubles are Saturday. Calgarians Jeff Christie, Sam Edney and Ian Cockerline race singles.

Brothers Chris and Mike Moffat of Calgary, and Grant Albrecht of Red Deer, and Calgary's Nick Olson will race doubles.

The 2008-09 World Cup season concludes next week with races on the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler.

Canada has won three individual World Cup medals in the history of the sport. Lauscher's silver, Calgarian Tyler Seitz's bronze in 2002 at his home track at COP, and a bronze by Marie-Claude Doyen, who is married to Staudinger, in Sarajevo in 1987.