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Canada's luge team using high tech toys

The Canadian Press By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press Posted Saturday, October 17, 2009 7:00 PM ETCALGARY - Canada's luge team has picked up a couple of new toys on the road to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

One hasn't been that helpful, but the other is something not even powerhouse Germany has, according to Canadian team head coach Wolfgang Staudinger.

About 25 cameras were set up earlier this month along the Olympic luge track at the Whistler sliding centre. The luge team spent a week there training and competing in selection races.

The athletes were able to review every inch of their runs the moment they stepped into the finish house.

"That camera system is unique in the world,' Staudinger said Saturday at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. "Nothing like this exists, not even in Germany.

"You have immediate feedback when you get out of the track and you can look at your run, time delay it and replay every single section of the track. You can really go into details right after the run and see where you made mistakes or where you did well.'

Added slider Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, Alta.: "That's the first time I've really seen technology like that. It was really cool.'

The luge team's sliding brethren, the skeleton and bobsleigh teams, will also benefit from the camera system. The luge team returns to Whistler later next week for their third instalment of World Cup selection races.

A less effective development in terms of 2010 preparation was the extension of the luge team's start ramp in the Ice House, which is the indoor training facility at Canada Olympic Park used by country's national sliding teams.

The alteration gives the luge team more room to practice their starts. Instead of getting only one or two paddles with their hands off the start, they can now get five or six, which is what they do on a real track.

But the project's construction moved at such a glacial pace over the summer that the luge team got just six days of training on it in September "which is next to nothing,' said Staudinger.

So while the longer ramp will help the team ahead of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it will have negligible benefits for 2010.

"It does help,' Calgary slider Jeff Christie said. "I would rather have had it open in April.'

But less than four months out from the Olympic Games, Staudinger says his team now has everything it needs.

"Thanks to Own The Podium, I think we have all the tools and enough finances in place, we can do what we need to do and we're doing it right now,' he said. "Yes, we could always use more funding, yes, we could always use more sponsors, but everything is in place.

"Now to start bringing in crazy stuff would be the wrong way to go. We'll stick to our plans and the plan is working.'

The luge team concluded a week of training at Canada Olympic Park on Saturday with their second of three World Cup selection races before returning to Whistler.

Lauscher caused a stir in a recent blog on CTVOlympics.ca that was critical of her treatment in Whistler. She said some people in the mountain resort town were not welcoming Olympians training there.

"It was how I was feeling,' she said Saturday. "I don't apologize for my opinion and speaking the way I felt in the blog, but I don't blame people for disagreeing with me.

"Having been to two Olympics, I know it can be controversial and people can be divided on it and that's OK. I got some really great email from people (in Whistler) saying 'so sorry that's the reception you feel you're receiving here.''

Going from the Whistler to the Calgary track is like an alpine skier racing the terrifying Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria, and then cruising down the family-oriented Nakiska Ski Resort west of Calgary, according to Staudinger.

Top speeds for the men at Whistler can reach over 150 kilometres per hour, while the sliding track of the 1988 Olympics in Calgary produces less than 130.

Track setups vary around the world and Calgary is considered one of the easiest. The luge team's week in Calgary was an exercise in track adaptation.

It was an important exercise because the first World Cup race of the 2009-10 season will be held in Calgary on Nov. 20 and 21.

"Now that Canada has this track and Whistler, we pretty much have anything you'll encounter in the world,' Christie said.

Canada hasn't won a World Cup medal since Lauscher's silver in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 2004 and that is the country's best international result to date. No Canadian has ever won a world championship or Olympic medal in the sport.

The Canadian Luge Association poached Staudinger from the German program in 2007. He believes the Canadians are on the verge of a breakthrough on the world stage.

"There is a high possibility,' Staudinger said. "I feel quite confident, more than the years before that we will probably do some stuff that people never thought or dreamed of.'