Luge Canada

Return to Olympic track brings back memories of '88

By Keith Bradford, Calgary Herald
November 15, 2009

He won a bronze medal for West Germany in luge doubles at Calgary 88, just a stones throw from the Tuscany neighbourhood he now calls home.

She placed seventh a day earlier, in front of an adoring home crowd, to secure what is still the best result by a Canadian female luger at an Olympic Games.

This week, 21 years and nine months after the highlight of their careers, Wolfgang Staudinger and Marie-Claude Doyon will make the short trip back to Canada Olympic Park as husband and wife.

And this time, theyll both be flying the flag for Canada.

Doyon will be there to cheer on the nations best lugers as they prepare for the first world cup race of a season dominated by the looming presence of Vancouver 2010.

Staudinger, the man she fell in love with while competing on the circuit in the mid-1980s, is charged with trying to coach them onto the podium.

Since my seventh place is still the best result in an Olympic Games for (Canadian) female luge, I kind of bugged my husband, saying, its about time you do something — its been 20 years,  says Doyon, 44.

Its about time somebody breaks this result and does a little better. Its still my result, its still black and white. Im proud of it. If somebody else does better, I think it would be good.

And knowing my husband has a little say in this one, it will be even better.

Canadas luge athletes will get a good idea whether theyre on the right track when the final results roll in this weekend at the Viessmann Luge World Cup at COP, which goes today through Saturday — with races scheduled for the final two days.

Its a baseline assessment and a confirmation that we did the right things over the summer, says the 46-year-old Staudinger, who was hired in 2007 to coach Canadas luge teams. I hope we are competitive from the top to the finish. I would like to see, hopefully, one of the Canadians on the podium. I dont know if its realistic, but anything is possible.

Canada doesnt have a good track record in luge, despite becoming a perennial contender in the other sliding sports, bobsleigh and skeleton.

Staudingers blueprint for success is refreshingly simple: implement similar training methods to the ones used so successfully over the past few decades by the best German teams.

The reality is, I came from the strongest system in the world, says Staudinger. When you bring in changes (in luge), its not like football where you change things and bang, boom, its done. It takes (time).

The tendencies I see are very positive but I still dont really know where I am. Competition and training are two different things.

Doyon credits the fact that she was allowed to train with the powerhouse West German team — and her future husband — with helping her to become a contender all those years ago.

In 1985, I just went over there. The West German coach didnt have a problem with it, says Doyon, who met Staudinger on the world cup circuit a few years earlier. It was very good training. They knew what worked and what didnt, but in Canada they were still struggling ­— trying to figure out training programs, what to do.

It did help and for me it made a big, big, big, big difference. I jumped from being a mediocre slider to a good one.

Doyon, who has a 10-year-old daughter with Staudinger, says that when she was introduced to luge at age 15, Canada was in a much weaker position than it finds itself in today.

Canada didnt have a junior program. Even the national team was just one or two people, says Doyon, who grew up in Sherbrooke, Que., a relatively short drive from the luge track at Lake Placid. When I came aboard things had started to change, but still, I had to buy my own sled. And the first winter I didnt have a coach — my teammates were helping me out.

Doyon got financial assistance from Sport Canada in her second year, but she says it wasnt until Calgary was awarded the 88 Olympics that the structure and funding really started to click into place. Two years after she began training with the West German team, she won a bronze medal on the world cup circuit in Sarajevo and arrived at the 88 Games with an outside chance of winning a medal.

I was aiming for sixth (place) so seventh was pretty good — I was very happy with it, says Doyon. My favourite memory of the Games is probably the opening ceremonies. Wed been waiting in the back for hours and just as we were getting into (McMahon Stadium), people were screaming and yelling. Suddenly, it went a notch higher when they noticed the Canadian flag in the back. We werent even in the stadium yet, we couldnt see anything, but it was just so loud. It was unbelievable.

Staudinger, who also competed at the Sarajevo Games in 84, agrees that the atmosphere was what made Calgary 88 so special.

It was the highlight of my career, he says. The friendly crowd, the blue skies of Alberta. Being able to participate was just a very unique feeling. Just great memories.

Staudinger and Doyon arent the only ones excited about a homecoming of sorts at COP this week. Most of Canadas lugers have spent years racing on the track so although Whistler, B.C., has been their base this year, Calgary is the track with which theyre most familiar.

Still, Staudinger doesnt subscribe to the theory that home-track advantage will give Canada a significant edge — either at this weeks world cup or at the Winter Games in Whistler.

All these guys that are consistently in the top 10, they dont need 20 runs at a track, says Staudinger, who coached many of Germanys top lugers after he retired. Really, they need one to two runs and they are right there. The times of the real home-field advantage are gone.

While Staudinger will be front and centre at COP this week, Doyon is happy to play the role of spectator. She says shell offer whatever support and advice she can based on her experience of competing at a Canadian Games.

I would probably say to them, enjoy it and just focus on what you have to do. Do the best you can because at the end, you are alone on that sled. Nobody else can help you.