Luger Christie aims to break into elite at GamesThe Canadian Press
By Dean Bennett,
Posted Tuesday, December 15, 2009 5:53 PM ET
CALGARY - The Olympics have allowed luge racer Jeff Christie to see the world, and enjoy special moments with two of his best friends.
Some moments perhaps a little too special.
Like after the 2006 Games in Turin, when he and fellow sliders Sam Edney and Ian Cockerline toured Paris - the towering Notre Dame, the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter, and finally the Eiffel Tower as day faded to an orange glow on the horizon.
The trio stood and looked up, way up, to see the cross-hatched metal spire pierce the black velvet of night, its lights blazing to life in a dazzling celebration of the City of Love.
Christie broke the silence.
"I will never come back to Paris without a girl. It's not right to be standing here with two dudes.'
But at Whistler in February, the 26-year-old slider hopes to be standing between two dudes on the podium, winning Canada's first-ever gold medal - actually first ever Olympic medal period - in luge.
It would be highlight of the career for Christie, born in Vancouver but raised in Calgary, who took up luge partly because he was afraid of chairlifts on the ski hill.
Unlike the chairlift, his fate was in his hands in luge, sliding down ice at highway speeds flat on his back.
"I had complete control over the sled, over whatever was going to happen,' he says in a recent interview.
He began sliding at age 12, living just a short drive from the track at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park.
Success came quickly. At 16 he won the first major race he ever competed in, the Junior World Cup under-17 category.
He was a cocky kid, full of confidence, trusting his instincts, roaring down the track like a torpedo, climbing the ladder of competition. The sleds were good and so were his coaches, teaching him the finer points of tracking straight, lightning-fast pushes from the start handles, not losing even an eyelash worth of speed.
"I was young, so nothing was an obstacle,' he says. "It was like, 'Well I can do this. What's the big deal.''
He seemed destined at 19 to go to the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. All he had to do was beat teammate Kyle Connelly in a race-off at Lake Placid, N.Y.
On race day, he sat at the start handles and coached himself: Don't overthink it. Just race. Don't think. Just race.
He pushed off.
"I was thinking the entire way. I was having problems in Curve 13 and I'm thinking, 'Thirteen, 13, 13. Don't do this. Don't do that. Don't go late (into the curve).
"And of course I went into 13 and fwoop, flew off the end.'
Connelly raced at Salt Lake and Christie learned a lesson: "You can't really worry about what's going on and what this could mean. I realized I have to race my race and see where that puts me.
"That helped me coming up to the '06 Games.'
After Salt Lake, he was on the senior World Cup circuit _ from boys to men, sliding from the top of the toughest courses in Europe.
He was caught between competitive levels: not ready for the senior courses, but nothing to learn from the junior coaches. He paid for his apprenticeship in bruises, slamming and bouncing his way along twisting curves of ice.
He would hit the wall so hard, the deep purple bone brusies on his feet wouldn't allow him to get out of bed the next day.
Coaches would see him wobble by at breakneck speed and look at each other, silently communicating: I hope this kid lives.
"I just got obliterated. I couldn't handle it, but but I needed to be with that coaching staff.'
By 2006, he made the Olympic team and competed in Turin, Italy. But it didn't turn out to be a dreamy, Vaseline-on-the lens idyllic memory. Crowds were sparse at the track and the site was a mess.
"I call it the banner Olympics because they threw up banners over the construction that wasn't finished. The track switched from an official construction site to a competition venue two days before.'
Christie finished 14th, admitting he was too cautious.
"wanted to just make sure my body did what it knew to do to make it down,' he says. ``I thought, 'I've got to play it safe enough not to crash.'
"But the guy who is going to win doesn't care if he crashes. He's riding the line.'
Another lesson learned.
Following Turin, Christie came into his own with a breakout season: four top-10 finishes in eight World Cup races in 2006-07, including fourth place in Calgary. In 2008 he finished 11th at the World Championships.
He hopes this is the year he breaks into elite level to challenge sliders like Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, David Moeller and Felix Loch of Germany.
For inspiration, he looks to cyclist Lance Armstrong, who overcame cancer to become a multiple winner of the Tour de France. Armstrong, says Christie, seems to know instinctively when a front-runner is at his weakest, the best time to hunt him down and break his will.
"He would ride with everyone, then boom, he'd be flying up this mountain,' says Christie. "It's like he didn't want to go up there until he felt like he could defeat them mentally.'
Strength also comes from Edney and Cockerline. Edney said Christie is the backbone, the guy who had the first aid kit even when the team didn't have a physiotherapist on staff; the man with the tools and the plan.
"He's the guy setting the bar that I'm trying to get to,' says Edney. "He's the most organized guy and one of the most driven guys I've ever met, and that's something that's really helped me.'
The three met through luge, stay together on long trips through Europe during the season and hook up for vacations in the summer.
"I don't think we would have been friends if it weren't for luge because there was nothing we had in common besides luge,' says Christie.
Luge also brings friendly rivalries, on the track and in the weight room.
Like at testing camp earlier this year at Canada Olympic Park.
Christie was on the bench press. He hoisted 130 kilograms _286 pounds _ then lowered the bar back on the metal rests with a satisfied bang.
He tried 135, lifted the bar halfway up, but could go no further.
"I was happy with 130,' he says. "Then Sam hops on the bench and benches 132.'
That's it! shouted Christie. "I'm going again.'
"So I put on 132 and I'm like, 'I'm not missing this' and Waaaahhhh! I push (the bar) out and I got it.'
Edney looked at him, lip curled in scorn.
Christie shrugged in return.
"I couldn't (let it go), man.'