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Preview: Doubles luge

The Globe and Mail
By Jeff Blair, The Globe and Mail
Posted Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No sport is as foreign to the North American psyche as doubles luge: a pair of men in skin tight suits on top of each other rocketing down a track. The rule of thumb is that the bigger of the two men goes on top - there is a seat - and while the bottom slider uses his shoulders to control the sled, the top man uses his feet.

Canadian luge coach Wolfgang Staudinger was a bronze medalist for Germany in the discipline and says that a doubles team that isn't in synch is "like having a passenger on the back of a motorcycle not following the curves." According to Staudinger, the front (top) slider indicates when it's time to turn but it's the bottom slider who initiates it. There are twenty doubles teams, which unlike singles luge have just two slides instead of four. They will race on Feb. 17 at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Doubles is open to both men and women, but there are no mixed or women's teams competing at the Vancouver Games. The field consists entirely of men's teams.

Medal contenders

Brothers Andreas Linger and Wolfgang Linger will be defending their gold medal from Torino, but they aren't favourites. The team to watch is that of Andre Florsch├╝tz and Torsten Wustlitch of Germany, who are three-time World Championship winners, current World Cup titleholders and winners of the inaugural World Cup doubles race held at Whistler last year. Another German doubles team, Patric Leitner and Alexander Resch, finished second on the World Cup circuit and were second at the Whistler World Cup where they set the doubles track record time of 48.608 seconds. Gold medalists in Salt Lake City, this will be their third and last Olympics.

Canadians

Canada will be represented by two teams at opposite extremes in terms of experience. Brothers Chris Moffat and Mike Moffat came out of retirement in 2005-2006 and finished ninth in the Olympics. Chris is 29, Mike is 27.

Canada's other team is the juniors duo of Justin Snith and Tristan Walker , who because of their junior status were forced to run qualifying races prior to each World Cup race. This is a discipline that favors experience and not only are the two 18-year-old's short on experience - Walker was racing singles two years ago - they are also not as mature physically as the top pairs. Snith, in fact, admits he could use another 20-25 pounds. "They are a team with good potential," Staudinger said, "once they become grown men." Walker has talked openly about wanting to return to singles competition but Staudinger thinks they have a very high ceiling as a duo. The Moffats finished 15th in the overall World Cup standings this year while Snith and Walker finished 20th.

In the past

Sliding sports have had no small amount of intrigue and accusations of skullduggery and doubles luge has often been the scene of disqualifications and weird happenings. It was in fact a problem with the start gate in the 1972 Sapporo doubles competition that resulted in luge being timed to a thousandth of a second. The first doubles run was thrown out due to a malfunction of the start gate and Italy's Paul Hildgartner and Walter Plaikner finished tied for the gold medal with East Germany's Horst Hornlein and Richard Bredow. The Italians, who won the first run, argued the run should not be discounted because the start gate issue affected each team. To avoid ties in the future, it was decided to time luge to a thousandth of a second. Speedskating is the only other Winter Olympic sport to be timed as such.

Canada in this event

Chris Moffat teamed with Eric Pothier to finish fifth in the 2002 Salt Lake City games, the best-ever finish by a Canadian team, in an Olympics where Moffat also finished 14th as a singles competitor.