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Luge racer's need for speed could be his Olympic ticket

By: Cori Lee Miller
www.cochraneeagle.com

For 18-year-old Tristan Walker, life is all about speed.

Racing down an ice rack at 150 kilometres per hour is just another day at work for the Bearspaw resident.

A member of the Junior National Luge Doubles Team, Walker is making a bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — and that goal is almost within reach.

Luge is a relatively simple sport to judge. Racers are simply timed as they rocket down the track and the fastest time wins. The difference between first and second place is often a few thousandths of a second, literally faster than the blink of an eye.

Speed, Walker said, is why he loves the sport.

It's just how fast you can go. You get to go faster than you're allowed to go on any road in Canada.

Walker, who got his start in the sport at age 10, is working with his luge partner of a year and a half, Justin Snith, to shape up for the competition. To make the Olympics, the team must place in the overall top 20 in three of the upcoming World Cup races.

Walker will be competing against senior racers and said he's a bit nervous, but ready to show them what he's made of.

Some of these guys are like legends in the sport, he said, adding he's ready to get out there and show them whose coming up behind them.

Walker is training five to six hours a day, but since his training is spread out he usually spends the entire day at the track. While his training comes before his social life, Walker said he doesn't mind.

You have to make a lot of sacrifices, like you can't always go out on a Friday night because you might have a race the next day, he said, adding it's worth it to reach his goal.

How many people ever get this close to even going to the Olympics?

With speed being such a huge factor in luge, it's a sport more about feeling than thinking.

If you think even about a mistake you made it's so fast that the next thing's coming up too quick and your going to crash, he said.

It's more about feeling, you have to know pretty well where you are on the sled and the track. It's more about feeling than thinking.

In addition to getting a feel during a run, double's lugers must also be able to depend on their partners.

On a doubles luge sled, one person steers with their shoulders and the other with their feet.

You really need to be able to work as a team to make it work.

Equipment is also important, and Walker's $10,000 sled is no exception.

When races are won and lost by a thousandth of a second, your equipment is really important.

Walker has already garnered fans and support in Cochrane.

Manachaban Middle School students were treated to the athlete's first ever presentation and most could barely contain the excitement, asking for hugs and autographs.

You feel like a rock star, said Walker of all the attention.

If he makes the Olympics, Walker aspires to do his very best.

This season I'm really just looking forward to the Olympics. Being able to represent Canada on home ice is just really special.

Walker's first World Cup race runs Nov. 20-21 in Calgary. He will then travel to Europe to compete in the remaining World Cup races.