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Canada's lugers gearing up for World Cup season

By James Keller, The Canadian Press Posted Thursday, November 12, 2009 7:16 PM ETWHISTLER, B.C. - With the World Cup season about to start, Canada's men's and women's luge teams know the stakes are high as they train this week at the 2010 Olympic sliding centre in Whistler.

"It's pretty intense - we've got four men that are trying to race for three spots in the Olympics,' men's team member Ian Cockerline said Thursday at the top of the winding, 1,400-metre ice-covered track on the side of Blackcomb Mountain.

"We're all pretty honest with each other - we're not holding back pretending, 'Oh, I don't want to beat you.' Everyone knows: 'I want to beat you.'

Their first World Cup is in Calgary next week, and there will be two more before the Games start in Vancouver and Whistler in February.

The three members of the women's team are competing for three Olympic spots - but they, too, must perform well enough at those World Cup events to compete at the Games.

The World Cups will take them away from their home venue at Whistler, one of the fastest and most technical tracks in the world.

But men's team member Jeff Christie said he's happy for the time away, especially to a place like Calgary, where the sliding course is a slower, easier ride to the bottom.

"It's perfect to split it up - if I was here for more than seven days, I'd go crazy,' said Christie, 26, of Vancouver.

"This track is so demanding mentally, it's beyond any other track that I know of, because there's so much stuff that can go wrong. In Calgary, if I make a couple of mistakes, it's OK. But here, if I'm not on my game every single run, I'm on my face.'

And the World Cups, said Christie, will be the team's first chance to size up the Olympic competition.

"We really haven't slid against the rest of the world yet - it's a testing ground,' he said.

"We've done a ton of work in the summer on our bodies, on our sleds. It's time to be like, 'OK, let's see where we stack up.'

The lugers will spend the next three months darting back and forth between World Cups and training at Whistler, and Regan Lauscher of the women's team said at every step of the way they have to be looking for ways to be better.

``Your job is never done - your equipment can always be polished better, you can always have a faster start and a better line on the track - it's my job, just constantly trying to make it better and better,' said Lauscher, 29, who lives in Calgary and is originally from Red Deer.

Lauscher is also still finding her bearings after two surgeries on her shoulders last year - the downside of a flexible body that gave her the nickname Gumby.

"My biggest thing is still coming back from my bilateral shoulder surgery and working at starts and gaining that speed into the track,' she 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.

Women's team member Alex Gough, who at 22 is the youngest member of her team, shied away from making any predictions.

"My goals are all process oriented - every thing I do is based on having a good start, having two good starts, and having clean and consistent runs,' she said.

"Who knows what can happen - it's racing.'