Ahead of the curve and aiming for an upset
February 3, 2010
Calgary's Alex Gough may be difficult to pick out from among the helmeted, skin-tight-suit-wearing luge crowd, but once Gough flips her visor upward, you'll immediately know it's her.
She's the luger with the lip ring.
Three tattoos adorn Gough's body, including one of the Olympic rings on the back of her right ankle. In Vancouver, she'll also be Canada's best chance in her chosen sport to don another Olympic bauble -- a medal.
It's made her a minor star in a sport that seldom gets even passing mention in her homeland.
"All the attention and stuff is kind of strange," said Gough, already headed to her second Olympics, but just 22. "Every four years, our obscure little sport gets a little bit of attention."
Four years ago, Gough balanced on her sled atop the luge run at Turin, an Olympic rookie at 18. On the track below, workers were gingerly moving the stationary, blood-spattered body of American luger Samantha Retrosi, who'd slammed into the wall near the end of her run and suffered a concussion among other injuries.
Retrosi's limp, luge-less body skidded right past Gough's mother, Zan Aycock, who was among the trackside spectators.
Not wishing to ponder the danger that awaited below, Gough sought to calm herself by quietly humming the tune from the Mario Brothers video games.
Four years later, little seems to slow down this self-confessed "speed daemon."
Any medals earned would be a surprise, for Canada has never won an Olympic medal in luge competition. But Gough has a potential to be the first.
She recorded six top-10 finishes in her final seven races of the 2008-09 World Cup season, including earning Canada's best world championship finish in luge, placing fourth at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Gough added another fourth-place finish earlier this season in a World Cup event at Igls, Austria, and appears to be well ahead of the curve for lugers, who generally don't hit their prime years until their late 20s and early 30s.
"She has an exceptional feeling on the sled, and she knows how to work the physics," Canadian team coach Wolfgang Staudinger said. "She keeps the sled with the G forces to give [maximum] acceleration, like shooting an arrow."
Seeking a sport with more pace than downhill skiing, Gough turned to luge when she was 13. She intends to stick with it through the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but after that, she isn't certain as to the future.
Gough is curious to see if the cash flow that's come from the Canadian government as part of the Own the Podium program continues for an Olympiad not being held on Canadian soil.
For the time being, Gough, who finished 20th in Turin, zeros in on Vancouver, seeking to put the hype out of her mind this time around.
"I just brush it off and leave it to everyone else to speculate and talk about it," she said of her medal chances. "I just want to go out there, do my thing and do the best that I can."
Clearly, she'd prefer that the spotlight shine on others.
"I don't really like that much attention on me," Gough said. "On the track, I have a visor and a helmet, so I'm pretty anonymous."
Until Gough takes that helmet off.
Then everyone recognizes her.
PATH TO THE PODIUM
Feb. 15: Runs 1 and 2
Feb. 16: Runs 3 and 4
2010 luge team
- Jeff Christie, Vancouver
- Sam Edney, Calgary
- Ian Cockerline, Calgary
- Chris Moffat, Calgary
- Mike Moffat, Calgary
- Tristan Walker, Cochrane, Alta.
- Justin Snith, Calgary.
- Alex Gough, Calgary
- Regan Lauscher, Red Deer, Alta.
- Meaghan Simister, Regina