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Canadian luge team aims for fast start this season

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press Posted
Monday, November 16, 2009 8:14 PM ET

CALGARY - It's all about the start in luge.

The race can be decided with one pull from a pair of handles, plus the three or four paddles with the hands to get the sled moving down the track.

"Compare it with a 100-metre sprinter. If you are not (fast) out of the blocks, you have no chance to win a 100-metre sprint race,' Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger said Monday.

"That's the same for us. The start is the most important thing. When we leave the handles, we've got to be right up there with the best in the world.'

Since the Canadian Luge Association poached Staudinger from the powerhouse German team, one of his pet projects has been to lower Canada's start times.

Endless paddling on the University of Calgary track and on hockey ice at a local arena to build arm strength during the last two summers has decreased Canada's start times significantly.

"We caught up,' Staudinger said. "When we started out two years ago, we were not really up in the top 15. Now we're in the top six.

"I know on the start, we are pretty much there. On the sliding, I don't know. We'll see how it goes this weekend in Calgary.'

The international luge season opens and ends in Canada this winter. The Viessman World Cup runs Friday and Saturday at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. The Olympic luge races in Whistler, B.C., from Feb. 13 to 17 mark the end of the 2009-10 season.

There are difficult tracks in the world where sliding skills can compensate for an average start, but the track at COP isn't one of them, as it is considered one of the easiest. So Canada's starts will be crucial.

A fast start can cover up a multitude of driving sins down the track, however.

"It lets you get away with a lot,' said slider Meaghan Simister of Calgary. "If you make some mistakes, but you have a world record or top-10 start time, you're still going to be in the pack.'

Simister holds the record for the fastest female start at Canada Olympic Park at 4.93 seconds. The 23-year-old, who took up the sport less than two years ago, wants to sharpen her sliding skills to take advantage of her starting prowess.

She finished ninth in her first world championship this year.

"Every one hundredth of a second counts,' Simister said. "I generally tend to lose time as I go down. That momentum I can get at the start is really an advantage for me.'

Teammate Alex Gough of Calgary was fourth at this year's world championship, which is Canada's best ever result there. The 22-year-old dropped five hundredths of a second from her starts and that's a lifetime in luge, in which championships are decided on less.

"I pulled a training start in Calgary a couple of weeks ago that was a 5.01 seconds and I was on average a 5.05 and 5.06 last year, so it significantly improved,' she said.

The World Cup opens Friday with the team event and doubles, featuring Calgary brothers and Olympic veterans Chris Moffat and Mike Moffat, as well as the young team of Tristan Walker and Justin Smith, who are also from Calgary.

Simister, Gough and Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, Alta., will race Saturday in the women's event followed the same day by the men's competition. Calgarians Jeff Christie, Sam Edney and Ian Cockerline and Brendan Hauptman of Kimberley, B.C., will represent Canada.

Canada has never won a World Cup race in luge, although Lauscher came close in 2004 with a silver medal in Lake Placid, N.Y. Staudinger hopes for a top-three result from Canada to start building momentum for the Olympics.

"I have a good feeling that we'll probably be top six and hopefully a podium,' he said.

The Germans and Italians excel at this sport with the German women routinely sweeping podiums at international events.

The Canadian team's starts should continue to improve because of a $175,000 extension built on their start ramp at COP's Ice House, which is the indoor training facility for sliding sports.

The renovation, paid for by Own The Podium, the Alberta Government and team sponsor Fast Track Capital, added two metres of height to the ramp. That allows the luge teams to practice starts the setups of outdoor tracks.

The project's completion in September was too late to help the luge team much ahead of the 2010 Olympics. The Canadians spent less than a week on it before moving to the outdoor track.