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Deluge Of Medals Junior luge program gives plenty of hope for great future

Al Ruckaber, Calgary SunEver since the introduction of luge as a Winter Olympics medal sport in 1964, Canadians have been sliding uphill.

Promise has translated into failure time and again, with not a single Olympic medal to show for those many efforts.

But finally, after all the frustrations and failures, the Canadian luge program is on the right track.

Last July, the Calgary-based Olympic Luge Training Centre was opened to run the national program.

Concentrating on the Junior 1 (under 17) and Junior 2 (under 19) programs to develop future senior stars, the training centre is off to a rousing start.

In this season's Junior World Cup tour, the young Canadian men are dominating.

Heading into the final tour stop this weekend at Kongissee, Germany, Calgary's Jeff Christie has already clinched the overall title, having won four of the five races.

And in Junior 2, Calgary's Kyle Connelly can win the overall title simply by finishing fifth or better.

Then there's the Moffat brothers, Mike and Chris.

Mike could have challenged Connelly for the overall Junior 2 title this weekend, but instead will go to St. Moritz, Switzerland to compete in doubles with Grant Albrecht at the senior world championships.

Older brother Chris is already on the senior circuit full-time and has had a 14th-place finish in singles as a rookie slider with the big boys.

There's also Regan Lauscher, who's giving Canada hopes for the future in women's singles.

At the recent Junior 2 world championships in Altenberg, Germany, Lauscher finished a solid fourth.

With all that young, highly-competitive talent suddenly emerging, Canada now has high Olympic hopes in luge.

"The 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City are too early for real medal possibilities, because you've got a lot of people who won medals way back in the 1980s who are still competing," said Tim Farstad, the program co-ordinator for the Olympic Luge Training Centre.

"We're still very young, but we should have a full team for Salt Lake City -- three men's singles, three women's singles and two men's doubles.

"Now if you're talking about Olympic medals, I believe we have a good shot at that for the 2006 Olympics at Turin, Italy. Because of our real success in the junior programs, things are really looking good.

"We've never had these junior results before."

Farstad says the sudden success can be directly attributed to the Olympic Luge Training Centre program.

"We joined the Canadian Luge Association together with CODA, the Alberta Luge Association, the Calgary Luge Club and the National Sports Centre," he said.

"All those groups threw in money for the National Luge Training Centre, with CODA being a very significant contributor there.

"With that support, we were able to hire two of the top coaches in the world -- Maria Luise Rainer and Karl Brunner, both from Italy. They brought us that extra step forward.

"They made our sleds faster. They're right on the cutting edge in the sport and they have shown us a lot of little tricks, things that give the world class sliders the edge they need to win internationally.

"Suddenly we have what every top competitive country has."

That is, the tools to enable Canada to have a real shot at Olympic luge medals for the first time.

Original>http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWinterSports/feb5_del.html">Original article in >http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWinterSports"> Canoe Slam Winter Sports

Reprinted with permission from The Calgary Sun
Copyright (c) 1999 The Calgary Sun and Tom Brennan