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Edney trails German leaders in luge

The Globe and Mail
By Jeff Blair
Posted Saturday, December 5, 2009

Altenberg - Conventional wisdom is that Altenberg's luge track is technically similar to the Whistler Sliding Centre's track. If that's the case, Saturday's men's race offers an intriguing possibility for the Olympics - one that, conceivably, involves Canada's Sam Edney.

Edney finished a strong eighth and for the second time in three World Cup races spent time on the leader's platform watching other sliders chase him.

In the end, the day belonged to Germany's Felix Loch - an upset because any men's race in which Armin Zoggeler isn't the winner doesn't hold true to form. Zoggeler was second and Russia's Albert Demtschenko placed third.

Four German sliders were fourth to seventh. Edney's second-race time of 54.625 seconds was faster than three of them. His combined time of 1:49.423 seconds was .512 seconds behind Loch's 1:48.911.

But this is Altenberg. Ian Cockerline of Calgary and Jeff Christie of Vancouver both rolled onto their shoulders on the same transition area between Turns 4 and 5 and finished 31st and 32nd.

Cockerline, who was 29th after the first run, angrily slammed his closed fists into the wall of the building at the finish line. Christie was 18th after the first run.

Canada's teenaged junior doubles team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith (of Calgary) placed 13th, a finish that Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger says ought to qualify them for the Olympics. Canada's veteran doubles team of brothers Chris and Mike Moffat, from Calgary, came in 14th.

"We wanted to get that second team into the Olympics," said Staudinger. "We did that. That's why we brought the juniors."

But from a Canadian perspective, the story was Edney - on a day in which the German sliding machine stumbled ever so slightly.

"I've been surprised by (Edney) from the beginning of the season, some of his training runs, too," Zoggeler said, speaking in German and translated by FIL press liason Wolfgang Harder.

"What he did in Calgary and at Igls showed he can do it. To do what he did today on this track? That showed it, too. I congratulate him."

That's fairly significant praise coming from a slider who seldom loses.

Zoggeler has 46 World Cup wins, by far the most of any slider in history. But yesterday, he was .058 seconds behind Loch, who won the World Championship race last year but did not have a career World Cup win.

Sliding last in the second run, Zoggeler's time of 54.474 seconds was .078 behind Loch's run.

Zoggeler won the first two races of the World Cup season, while Loch had two fourth-place finishes. Edney came in fifth in Calgary and 18th in Igls - but he still spend a considerable amount of time in the leaders box in Igls because his second-run time was the fastest of the day. Saturday, he was in the sport's version of the "kiss and cry" area for five racers. He's becoming an old hand at the leaders box, no?

"He's going to have to get used to that," said a visibly pleased Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger.

"The last run was one of the best of the entire week. In the first run he had a couple of mistakes in the top section that shed off two-tenths, but for me the tendency is absolutely in the right direction. We did OK. A top 10 result at the track we dislike the most."

Edney's emotions ran the gamut in the leaders box. With a TV camera in his face, it was a time of smiles and waves and thumbs up and grimaces and audible sighs of relief.

When Austria's Jan-Armin Eichhorn was in the starting gate, Staudinger said: "Well, here comes the home team."

Thus ended Edney's day on a track used to train not only by the Germans but most of the East and Central European nations. Edney had six runs to get ready for Saturday's race; many of his competitors had multiple times that number.

This track is so similar to Whistler that the Germans will train on it for the Olympics.

But Loch was candid in suggesting the Germans might be better off training in Cesana, Italy, because while Altenberg matches some of Whistler's technical aspects, he feels the difference in speed between Whistler and Altenberg is an issue.

"For me, that track (Cesana) is faster than here," he said, "so, that would be good preparation for Whistler."

The Germans could train on the moon and still be favored for both of the two non-Zoggeler medals - which is how we might as well refer to the silver and bronze.

But know what? If Edney can put together two runs like his second run in one day ... well, he'll be there in a group of sliders ready to move up should the Germans falter. He could be Demtschenko.

In the meantime, he doesn't mind the leader's box.

"Yeah, it's something new for me - I've never spent quite so much time there," said Edney, a powerful, squarely-built athlete who was part of the doubles program at one time.

"It's again confirmation that if I do two clean runs, and have that consistency in place ... it's just easy to see the tendency is there."

Edney said he doesn't pay attention to the goings-on on the track when he's in the start-house. He was aware his teammates had crashed, but not much more.

"You hear it - sturz' (the German word for fall), the big commotion over the intercom," said Edney. "It's tough to hear that but at the same time, you have to let it go.

"This is a track where your margin of error is so small in so many places," Edney said, continuing. "It's so easy to be a couple millimetres off, and next thing you know, you're on your face.

"What happens for me is I get into good rhythm and then the sled and body does it's own thing. Actually, I think this is a really neat track because you have these four or five critical areas and little breaks in between where you take a breath and get ready for the next area."

Edney is in ninth place in the World Cup rankings, with 120 points. He's two behind Tony Benshoof of the USA while Zoggeler's 285 points has him in first place ahead of Loch (220) and German David Moller (191.)

Christie is tied for 19th. The Moffat brothers are ninth in the World Cup doubles standings and Walker and Snith are 14th.

The men's doubles event was won by Germany's Andre Florschutz and Torsten Wustlich, ahead of Austria (Peter Penz/Georg Fischler) and Italy (Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber.)