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Setting His Seitz on 2002

By Karen Clark - Calgary SunLugers aren't crazy.

According to Calgary's finest slider, "the last fatality was back in '79." "It's totally safe," said Canadian champ, Tyler Seitz. "There's always a chance of injury, but it's not dangerous like it used to be. Back in the '60s and '70s, a guy would race for awhile and then he'd be gone."

Apparently, pioneer sliders went airborne on corners before luge-track designers decided covering sharp-turns might be a good idea.

Today's lugers "get beat up once in awhile, but nothing major." So unless his sled breaks under the sheer weight of his powerful 6-ft., 207-lb. body, Calgary's Seitz will be on Canada's 2002 Olympic Team.

The 24-year-old 1998 Olympic team member is off and sliding to the best season of his 12-year career.

And just six days ago, Seitz took the singles gold in the National Championships at Canada Olympic Park.

"This should be the best season of my life. I'm faster at the start and I'm faster on the track," said the nine-time national champ.

And the track is getting faster, too.

"In Calgary, we go about 118-120 km/h. In Salt Lake it's been clocked at 153 km/h," said Seitz. "When you get going (in Salt Lake) your body feels long and stretched out, it's totally different."

Seitz plans to spend plenty of time getting used to the lightning-fast speed of the 2002 track. He heads down to the Utah facility this week to train for his next goal.

"At the '98 Olympics, I was there to see the Games and feel it out. This time I am going to win," said Seitz.

And if any Canadian has a chance to win luge gold, it's Seitz.

The slider is one of the finest lugers Canada has ever seen.

At the age of 12, Seitz was the youngest Canadian luger ever and was virtually the pioneer of our national junior program. In '96, Seitz made history again by being the first Canadian to medal at a World Junior Championship.

And in '98, the daredevil raced at two do-or-die meets with a fractured wrist to meet the Olympic qualifying standard of top 16 at four World Cups.

"At the second World Cup of the year, I broke my wrist and I thought it was all over," said Seitz. "At the third, I didn't qualify. I just couldn't do the start, I'd just lie there and hope for the best." Seitz took a week off and then went for broke at the last-chance qualifiers for the Games.

And the gods of racing were smiling as Seitz placed 15th at a World Cup in Calgary and 13th at the European Championships in Germany.

Seitz managed a respectable 18th at his first Olympic Games in '98.

And at the '99 World Championships, Seitz crossed the line in 13th position - a result not seen in Canada for more than 10 years in men's singles.

The slider doesn't expect an Olympic berth to be a huge challenge this time around. With 15 months until the next Winter Games, Seitz already has two of four qualifications under his belt.

But there could be some competition from his own backyard.

Fellow Calgarians Kyle Connelly, Chris Moffat and Mike Moffat are zipping down the track in fine form as well this season. And there's only three Olympic spots per country up for grabs.

So if all four Canucks make the standard, the Canadian team will have a whole new kind of problem to deal with.

"If it comes to that, we'll have to have a race-off. That's where the real stuff comes out," said Seitz. "We've never had to have a trials in Canada." So with more lugers than ever making a slide for Salt Lake, Canada's team is in fine form for the 2002 Games.

And if Seitz has his way, we'll be counting the medals as well.

Karen Clark won a silver medal in synchro swimming at the 1996 Olympics. Her column appears each week in F.A.S.T.

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Copyright 2000 Calgary Sun and Karen Clark