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Christie named to Canada's Olympic luge team

Vicki Hall, Canwest News Service
Published: Saturday, December 19, 2009
www.nationalpost.com

CALGARY -- With no steering wheel and no brakes, Jeff Christie routinely hits speeds of 153 km/h on the Autobahn of all luge tracks at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

He has no fear.

So why in the world did the Calgarian feel queasy Saturday over the relatively simple task of modeling his Team Canada Olympic wear for Christmas shoppers in downtown Calgary?

"I'd rather go down a luge track than go down a runway," said Christie, looking positively resplendent in his red and black buffalo-checked toque. "I was honestly a little nervous. I had fun, but was like, What do I do? Where do I put my hands?'

"On the luge track, I've done it thousands of times. I know exactly what to do.

He knows exactly what to do come Feb. 13 and 14 in Whistler as one of 10 Canadians named Saturday to the Olympic luge team.

On the men's side, Christie is joined by fellow Calgarians Sam Edney and Ian Cockerline.

On the women's side, Calgary's Alex Gough is the best overall hope for snapping Canada's Olympic shutout streak in feet-first sliding.

Canada has never won a luge medal at the Winter Games.

So the pressure is on.

"All the attention and stuff is kind of strange," said Gough, 22. "Every four years, our obscure little sport gets a little bit of attention.

"So I just brush it off and leave it to everyone else to speculate and talk about it. I just want to go out there, do my thing and do the best that I can."

The hype surrounding Gough exists for a reason. After all, she placed fourth at the 2009 world championships in Lake Placid, N.Y - the best ever world championship finish by a Canadian luger.

On Nov. 29, she roared to a fourth-place finish on the World Cup circuit in Ingls, Austria.

"Of course, Alex is the one who has brought the best results so far on the team," said head coach Wolfgang Staudinger. "But we should not forget that we have others, too. They're capable of similar things to Alex.

"Alex is in the spotlight right now. I hope Alex can keep the momentum. But my hopes are with others, too."

Those others include Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, and Meaghan Simister, born in Regina but raised in Calgary.

Brothers Chris and Mike Moffat and the tandem of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith - all of Calgary - will represent Canada in men's doubles.

All but Snith and Walker have Olympic experience.

"What happens at the end? I can not foresee that," Staudinger said. "I am not God. Sometimes, they call me the sleigh god. But I am not.

"There's some hot forces on the race, so let's see what happens."

No matter what happens, Gough is happy to slip back into her sliding suit and return to her frozen world of the track.

Life as a fashion model is not for her.

"I feel really awkward on the runway," she said. "I don't really like that much attention on me. On the track, I have a visor and a helmet, so I'm pretty anonymous.

"But here, everyone's eyes are on you and you can't hide."

Chalk it up to life as a medal hopeful in a home Olympics.