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Lugers looking good on Whistler track

Canadians comfortable at Olympic venue as World Cup season opens Megan Grittani-Livingston
www.whistlerquestion.com

Where some lugers might still find themselves looking tense at the top of the Whistler Sliding Centre track, Canadas top sliders say they are feeling comfortable at the 2010 Olympic venue.

In Whistler last Thursday (Nov. 12) to slide in the training week for international luge competitors, some of the members of Canadas largest-ever national luge team professed their passion for the track, as well as their readiness for the World Cup season set to begin this week (Nov. 20 and 21) in Calgary.

At the Whistler track, Ive seen some people that look pretty stressed out, Calgarys Ian Cockerline, a seven-year national team member and one of the four Canadian male lugers who will face the world this season.

Comparatively, after some 200 runs on the Whistler track for most of the Canadians, Cockerline said hes feeling pretty relaxed here.

You can never be too relaxed on a luge hill. You do have to be paying attention to what youre doing, but its a comfy track for us now, he said.

After an intense summer of training, and with the help of brand-new sleds built for them in a new shop at the Calgary track, the lugers are looking to lay down the fastest runs they can in Whistler and throughout the World Cup season.

Calgarys Jeff Christie, the national team member of nine years who sped consistently into the World Cup top 15 in five of six races last season, said the Whistler track is great, great, great in his books, and he appreciates how hard everyone at the venue works for the sliders.

This track is great& Its fast, it gets fast right away, (and) its technical enough but its not beyond reason for people to get down. I just enjoy sliding on it, Christie said.

That said, hes not putting the horse before the carriage and picturing himself sliding down the Whistler tracks twists and turns during the Olympics just yet: as one of his goals for the start of the World Cup season, Christie pointed to the need to earn a berth on the Canadian Olympic team.

I want to qualify for the Olympics. Id like to do that right away, he said. He added that hes looking forward to entering the races as the testing ground against other countries, to see how the Canadians will stack up after putting in a ton of work on their bodies and sleds over the summer.

Calgarys Meaghan Simister, the six-year national team member who holds the world start record on the Whistler track, said she feels really confident on the Whistler track and knows she can do well here, after adjusting to the ice temperature and her welcome new sled.

Weve basically seen every ice condition. Ive made every mistake in the book, Im sure, and I know what to expect, she said.

Calgarys Sam Edney and Kimberleys Brendan Hauptman round out the mens side of the national team, while Simister is joined by Red Deers Regan Lauscher, the World Cup silver medallist who is working her way back from two shoulder surgeries, and Alex Gough, who surged to the best-ever finish for a Canadian at the luge World Championships with her fourth-place result last season.

Gough noted that the Canadians comfort on the Whistler track might only offer advantages to a certain extent come February 2010 — theyve had the time to train in the tracks lightning-fast speeds and variable conditions, but the best sliders in the world will take their handful of pre-runs and still slide phenomenally well, she said.

Gough said she hit speeds of 145 kilometres per hour sliding at Whistler last season, the fastest she has ever gone, while the men clocked speeds up from 147 to 150 km/h at Thursdays training session.

B.C.-bred Hauptman is a new addition to the senior team this season, stepping into his first full season on the World Cup circuit. Hauptman found his way into sliding sports through a Legacies Now recruitment camp and he thinks the Whistler track can help B.C. develop more great lugers.

With the Whistler track, he said, Itll definitely be easier. I had to make a four-hour journey to Calgary just to be able to do it, and sacrificed a lot of school. With it right here in Whistler, theres definitely going to be a lot of kids who can come up after school and keep doing it.

Hauptman, who qualified for the senior team through the intense selection races in Whistler and Calgary, said hes hoping to challenge for an Olympic berth, looking to break into the ranks of the top three Canadian men.

Though theres a lot of friendship and camaraderie among the team members, Cockerline said, theres also honesty about wanting to beat each other.

This is going to be the best Olympics ever; Im pretty excited. I want a spot here, badly, Cockerline said.

The fast-starting Simister said shes hoping to crack the top 10 on the World Cup circuit, a very possible goal after a season that saw her ranked 13th overall. She finished 10th at the Whistler World Cup, and hopes to repeat a top-10 result at the Games.

Anything is possible. I just hope for consistent runs and I hope to build on speed that I can maintain at the start, Simister said.

Achieving consistency is a key element for several of the lugers  Gough, who calls herself a very process-oriented person, puts that ahead of counting World Cup placings.

My goals are to have fast starts and clean, consistent runs, and if Im able to put that together, Im happy with where I end up, she said.

She said shes looking forward to seeing what will happen this season, after a really long, hard summer of training that is already showing benefits — such as all-important faster start times — and after a season that gave her the confidence that she can be up there with the top 10, top eight group.

Lauscher is feeling strong and fighting hard to return to the top ranks after a frustrating season that saw her recovering from two shoulder surgeries, and learning patience while wrestling with the feeling she should just bounce back to where she left off.

Its a lot of work. I had to work my way into that top group and Im going to have to work my way back in it again, she said. Heading into the World Cup season, she said shes really trying to stay focused on the bigger picture, which is February, while trying to have her best races and being truly honest with herself.

After everything she has gone through in the sport, Lauscher said her goal for the Olympics is to do whatever is within my capability to have my best race, and to get off the ice saying I couldnt have done any more.

Lauscher made waves last month with a blog post in which she wrote of feeling disliked in Whistler for her Alberta roots and her participation in the Olympics, and of getting a lecture for use at Meadow Park Sports Centre. Last week, she said simply that the blog was my opinion, but its behind me, as she has to focus all her energy now on her training.

Its moving forward and just doing the best I can on all Canadians behalf, coast to coast. I just want to represent Canada the best I can. Im focusing every ounce of energy I have on that, she said.

Her teammates said theyve felt welcome and well received in Whistler.

Im quite comfortable here. Everyone here at the track works their ass off for us. I mean, when were training theyre just non-stop going& and every time Im in a restaurant or somewhere in a store, theyre always like, Hey, luge team, cool, I want to get up and see the track. I mean, they sold out 5,000 tickets here for the World Cup last year, Christie said.