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Renovated facilities put Canadian luge athletes on track

By Vicki Hall, Calgary Herald
November 17, 2009

CALGARY — Time is a precious commodity that can never be recovered once wasted.

This eternal truth applies to all of us, but perhaps especially of luge athletes, who throw themselves feet first down a canyon of ice in quest of World Cup or Olympic glory.

The start isn't everything. But the push from the top can easily mean the difference between winning a medal, of any colour, or capturing the proverbial badge for showing up.

So the Canadian luge team is understandably elated with upgrades to the start-training facility at Canada Olympic Park in the leadup to the Vancouver Olympics

The Alberta government invested $75,000 towards the cause. Own the Podium chipped in with $60,000. The Canadian Luge Association — with help from title sponsor Fast Track Capital — picked up the remaining $40,000.

"This is critical," veteran slider Regan Lauscher, of Red Deer, said Monday at the official launch for the upgraded start facility. "Being successful in luge is a combination of a lot of things, but the start is one of those very, very critical things. It creates the speed and velocity right off the bat."

And the Canadians need every split second in their favour if they hope to crack the podium this weekend at the World Cup in Calgary or, more importantly, in Whistler, B.C., this February.

Canada has never won an Olympic medal in feet-first sliding. Ever.

"To actually have a facility like this where we can practise properly, that's huge," said Calgarian Jeff Christie, who placed 14th in men's singles at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. "We had abandoned this facility, because it wasn't very useful for us anymore."

Calgary's Ice House serves as the off-season training centre for Canada's bobsleigh, luge and skeleton teams.

Most tracks on the World Cup circuit have an acceleration area of 15 to 20 metres before hitting the first turn. At the Ice House, the first turn, prior to the renovations, came within an estimated five metres.

That meant the athletes couldn't even recline backwards before hitting the first curve. And that, in turn, created all kinds of bad habits.

"Luge looks really simple and basic when you're watching it," Lauscher said. "But surprisingly, there's lots of elements you have to keep in mind to focus on when you're actually doing it. We're splitting hairs for that time."

It got to the point coach Wolfgang Staudinger ordered the team out of the Ice House and onto a regular hockey rink at the Bowness Arena. At least the surface was flat and straight.

"If you don't have that speed going into the top section of the track, in the first few metres of the run, you're always trying to play catch-up with your competitors," Lauscher said.

The entire world plays catch-up with the Germans, who simply dominate the frozen world of luge.

But the revamped start facility — with an additional two metres of height and 11 metres of distance before the first curve — gives the Canadians more of a chance.

"This is better for us to train on," said Calgarian Meaghan Simister, "because it's more similar to all the tracks around the world."

Including the one in Whistler.