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Defeating Germany's luge giants

CTVOlympics.ca
By Jennifer Lukas, CTVOlympics.ca
Posted Thursday, November 19, 2009 5:58 PM ET

The Canadian Olympic luge team's goal is to make history in February, there's no question. Any medal would be Canada's first. Any athlete would be thrilled to post the fastest time, the highest speed or the first - or most - medals.

But Canada's women luge athletes also have another goal for Whistler: To prevent history in the making.

Germany has swept the Olympic podium in women's luge, two years running.

Three more medals and Germany becomes the only country to ever sweep the Olympic podium in an individual event in three straight Olympic competitions.

"(Germany is) the powerhouse in luge," explained Meaghan Simister, a native of Regina, Sask., in a recent interview with CTVOlympics.ca.

"When people think, you know, Canadians, we dominate women's hockey? Women's luge is just like that, if not more-so, because they get the top-three spots almost each and every time."

In Turin in 2006, it was Sylke Otto, Silke Kraushaar and Tatjana H├╝fner. In 2002, it was Otto followed by Barbara Niedernhuber and Kraushaar.

Strong even in 1998, Germany missed out on the podium sweep by less than two-tenths of a second when Austrian luger Angelika Neuner beat out Germany's Susi Erdmann for the bronze.

"They're very intense, just like any high-performance athlete who is the best. They're very intense and they're very focused and they're very professional," said Simister.

Germany is so dominant in the sport of women's luge that a certain amount of solidarity has grown between the country's competitors.

"It's at the point now where it doesn't even matter if it's you (who wins)," Simister said, "It's at a point where it can be anyone and we're happy. I mean, it's not good for the sport when the same people win every single race."

As recently as last season, there have been breakthroughs.

Earlier this year, American Erin Hamlin took the world title on her home track, ruining a 99-straight German win streak.

At the same race in Lake Placid, Alex Gough, a 22-year-old athlete from Calgary, posted a Canadian-best finish, in fourth place.

According to Olympic analyst and Olympian Chris Wightman, Canada's lugers have never had a better chance to finish on the Olympic podium than at the Whistler Sliding Centre in February.

"Personally, I think (Gough) was two good starts away from being on the podium at the world championships," Wightman said, "She was that close and if she had a world-class start, she would have been right there."

The start - the most important part of any luge run - is something Gough has been working on with her coach, Wolfgang Staudinger. Originally from Germany, Staudinger is beginning his second full season with the Canadian team. Wightman credits him with Canada's quick gains in the sport

"The word is, in the start-house, 'look at those Canadians. They're so much bigger and stronger than they have been, just the last two years.' They've made huge strides," said Wightman.

Gough, Simister and their teammate, Regan Lauscher, will do their best to continue to make gains as the Olympic World Cup season kicks off Friday, in Calgary."It's not going to be easy," said Simister, "They're the best in the world.

"I'm just going to have to watch what they do and try to slide to the best of my abilities... and just pull the fastest start that I can."