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Canadian Olympic luge team first to arrive in B.C., eager to get started

By Sunny Dhillon (CP)
The Canadian Press

RICHMOND, B.C. — With the 2010 Winter Games just one week away, the athletes that will represent the Great White North have started sliding into B.C.

The Canadian luge team became the first to arrive in unison Thursday when it met the media at Vancouver airport. Wearing their black Team Canada jackets on what turned out to be a rare bright and sunny day on the Lower Mainland, members of the squad said they're itching to go for gold.

"The past couple of days you've been thinking about it and the excitement builds up, but now it's good to just be in Vancouver and heading up to Whistler," said Canuck luger Sam Edney. "I'm thrilled and excited to be here."

Edney, 25, had a breakthrough season on the World Cup circuit.

The Calgary native kicked off the season with a career-best fifth place finish in front of a hometown crowd, and was seventh in Cesana in the final event of the campaign.

He finished 12th in Whistler at a pre-Olympic test event and heads into the Games ranked 15th in the world.

Edney said the home ice advantage should bode well for the Canadian team.

"It's going to be a big advantage, I think, for us," he said. "For me, I'm just going out there and looking to have four really consistent runs. I know the track really well, we've had some really great training on it."

While the lugers were the first Canadian Olympians to be swarmed by media at the airport as the Games draw near, some of their fellow Canucks will get the same treatment over the coming days.

Flagbearer Clara Hughes, a five-time Olympic medallist, is scheduled to arrive in Vancouver Friday afternoon.

The women's hockey team gets into town on Sunday, as does the speed skating squad.

Alex Gough, who might represent Canada's best chance to earn a medal in luge, said she doesn't feel any added pressure competing on home soil in front of Canuck fans hoping desperately that their country will own the podium in both Whistler and Vancouver.

"I've had a good season and I'm going into this with confidence, knowing that I can slide that well, but it's still a matter of going out there on race day and doing my job," she said.

"I definitely am looking forward to racing with a hometown crowd out there and it's going to be exciting."

Gough, 22, finished in the top-six four times this year on the World Cup circuit and was No. 4 at last year's world championships.

The Calgary resident, who is currently ranked No. 7 in the world, competed for Canada at the 2006 Games in Turin and finished 20th.

Like Edney, Gough said competing on a course she's extremely familiar with should serve her medal hopes well.

"Just the way Whistler's built, I love sliding there. With all the training we've had, I really inherently know the track from top to bottom and I'm really excited to get out there," she said.

Edney said keeping his composure in front of the sure-to-be boisterous crowd will be key to his performance.

"You have to stay in the zone and try not to let it get too out of control, get to you too much," he said.