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Christie's sprint among luge's tester events

By Jeff Blair, The Globe and Mail
Posted Friday, December 4, 2009 11:40 AM ET
www.ctvolympics.ca

ALTENBERG - He isn't certain how some of the older competitors like his idea, but there's really no point in asking Canadian luger Jeff Christie how he likes the notion of a timed sprint start' in men's racing.

"I was the one who came up with the idea, so I think it's great," the Calgary slider said Friday, laughing. "We had a meeting three years ago when I was elected, and one of the first things that came up was just having eight World Cups a year seems kind of hokey and what's the best way to do it.

"We went through a bunch of options. We could do another exact same World Cup ... but then it's the exact same thing. You could add more places but it's more TV and money and everybody has to produce more (crap) - sorry - stuff and so we thought maybe a one-run race. At the time the team relay was catching on so we thought maybe we'd add the gate. Maybe it would shake things up the order a little bit. As of the results today ... um, it may not."

The top three racers in the World Cup standings - 36-year-old Italian Armin Zöggeler and David Möller and Felix Loch of Germany - finished 1-2-3 in an experimental sprint race Friday that was used to set the seedings for the World Cup races this weekend. Christie finished 14th of 15 sliders, three spots behind Sam Edney, also of Calgary.

With an eye toward expanding its presence in Sochi in 2014, luge is experimenting with a team relay event and now a sprint start in men's racing. Canada won the team relay competition at Igls, Austria, last weekend - in a race that consisted of one female, one male and one doubles team, each doing one run for a combined final time. Athletes hit a pad at the finish to open the gate at the start for the next team member.

Canadian luger Alex Gough loves the concept. "I think a lot of competitors think it's fun because it's a true team event," she said.

The sprint is a work in progress. Christie admits that the IOC will likely look more favourably on the team relay, but says that with some tweaking he'd like to see the sprint start get accepted as a World Cup event and then go from there. Luge is a sport plagued by back injuries, and while he says he's no doctor, Christie wonders how much of it is due to the impact of the pulled start. With the gated sprint format, the emphasis is placed on the paddling of the hands.

"The idea is you don't get to choose when you leave the handles and start the eye' (electronic timer,)" said Christie, who as the athletes representative on the FIL (the sport's governing body) was charged with presenting the idea. "The agate opens randomly.

"I'd like to maybe see it much faster and include everybody who's here, so that the people from the smaller nations who support the sport from the bottom can have a World Cup race. And I like the idea of a one-run race. It changes the psychology, because you don't have that other run to make a comeback. You have to let it all out.

"My hope is that as soon as one guy is finished, the guy at the start gets his 15-second clock . So guys will be firing down."

Canada is represented here by 10 sliders: Calgarians Christie, Edney and Ian Cockerline; Meaghan Simister and Gough of Calgary and Regan Lauscher of Red Deer; the Calgary-based doubles teams of Chris and Mike Moffat and Tristan Walker and Jason Snith. Brendon Hauptman, from Kimberley, B.C., was disqualified from the men's race this weekend after being disqualified Friday for starting late in his Nations Cup race. The men's singles and doubles will go off Saturday, while the women's race and team relay will be held Sunday.

"We will find out why in our meeting (Friday night)," head coach Wolfgang Staudinger said of Hauptmann's disqualification. "That should not happen."

For the most part, Staudinger said, the Canadians training has gone to form this week, and Edney admitted that his fifth place finish in the first race of the year in Calgary has whetted his appetite.

"For how many years, now - three years - he's told us it's a building process," said Edney. "So we've been kind of going through that. It gives you the thought that: OK we're on the right path. We really have done the right work and now it's just down to two consistent runs and sliding as consistently as possible. Because we now know that with clean runs, we can catch up."