Luge Canada

Luge team has something to build on

Luge team has something to build on

Team wrapping up three-week camp in Whistler in advance of World Cup

By Andrew Mitchell

After years of work, the Canadian Luge Team is finally on the map.

Last season Alex Gough made Canadian and international history several times over. She was the first non-German luger to win a World Cup event since 1997, the first Canadian to podium or win a World Cup event, and the first Canadian to win a medal at the world championships. She finished the 2010-2011 season with three World Cup bronze medals, a World Cup gold medal and a bronze in the world championships.

For national team Head Coach Wolfgang Staudinger, who was recruited from the dominant German program, Gough's results were big for the program.

"Once you get an achievement like that which has never been in the past, it's very motivating for everyone else because they can see that it's doable - they can see that there's no magic involved," he said. "They know that it all comes down to hard work, putting in the labour, working hard with the coaches, working hard in training, and then one day it will all come together.

"What happened with Alex was a great thing, but it didn't happen over one year or even a few years. It was a process over four or five years to build up to this level. That she would come through so strong nobody could have known, but it was very good to see."

While luge hasn't been a big sport for Canada in the past, Staudinger said that Gough is a household name is countries like Germany who do follow the sport. The team regularly gets media requests from Europe and especially Germany who want to know what's happening.

"It wasn't that Alex just did the one race, it was what she achieved over the season building up to the win to finish the season. That put us on the map," he said.

Overall, Staudinger said the goal this season is continue improving. He said the team is performing slightly better in training this year while focusing more on the technical skills of the sport by getting in a high volume of runs in Calgary - mostly on the concrete over the summer - and at the Whistler Sliding Centre, which has had ice in since early October.

Staudinger said the program has been in place since 2007, and the system is starting to evolve as the athletes improve their skills.

"The goal is to move up from what we did last year and perform at the same level on the women's end with Alex and Arianne (Jones), with Jones moving up, and to hopefully raise the bar higher for the guys so they can build on their results. For Sam (Edney) that includes a couple top 10 results and a top six from last season. It's very possible. We also have a few young guys (in doubles luge) in Tristan (Walker) and Justin (Snith), and we can get into the top 10 with these guys.

"In the long terms the goal is to be consistently in the top six, and with the athletes I've mentioned it's absolutely possible."

The luge team is heading back to Calgary on Friday, Oct. 28 after three weeks. Each day the team trains on ice from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. In between, the team heads to the Whistler Athletes' Centre in Cheakamus Crossing to do dryland training.

However, the training really started back in April after a break of one month. The team started off with athletic training to become stronger and heavier, then transitioned into technical training which included riding the concrete track in Calgary on a wheeled sled. They also spent some time in hockey arenas working on their starts.

They did come to Whistler for a camp earlier in the season, which they used for team building and cross training. Among others things, they spent two days as guests of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, which Staudinger believes is the ultimate summer sport for luge athletes.

"In luge you have to commit to what you do, and while mountain biking is the perfect opposite of luge it has the same requirement. If you don't commit to go over a jump or over a bridge or down the steeps you will probably wipe out and crash, and luge is the same thing. It's very fast. For us it's another way to challenge the athletes in a different sport where that level of commitment is required. It also takes balance and guts to get down quickly."

Staudinger said that by the end of the second day his athletes were doing most of the trails in the bike park.

They also went on a tour with Ziptrek during that session, and river rafting on the Elaho.

"We love it here," he said of Whistler.

After a week in Calgary the team will head to Germany to train at Altenberg before heading to the World Cup opener at Innsbruck, Austria from Nov. 26 to 27. After that, the athletes come back to Whistler for an international training week from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4, followed by a World Cup competition on Dec. 9 and 10.

This is the first year that athletes will compete in a team relay event, which was added to the Olympic calendar for 2014 by the International Olympic Committee.

In Whistler, the athletes will use the same lower start used in the Olympics after the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, but Staudinger said that they do use the higher start area during training.

"This track has always been safe," he said. "Until the tragedy at the Olympics it was built to the highest safety standards known."

He also said the changes and upgrades to the track have been noticeable, and the conditions of the ice are also better than other tracks.

"Crashes are normal in luge, it's no different than when you go skiing or snowboarding - people wipe out," he said. "But there is a very low injury rate in Whistler. The injury rate is much higher at some tracks in Germany or Austria."

The team also has high hopes for the track in Sochi, Russia and is hoping to have athletes included in the homologation testing taking place in March where the course is benchmarked for speed and safety. If no athletes or coaches are invited, teams will get their first look at the track during a training week in late 2012, leading up to an Olympic test event the following season.

Staudinger said the first events of the season would be crucial for determining where athletes are with their training.

"I think we're in a good place," he said. "Looking at the training results we're doing right now we're right where we were last year at this time, and maybe a slight touch ahead. It's hard to judge because the real measure is the start of the World Cup. It's anybody's guess and I can't say 100 per cent, but my feeling is that we'll be competitive again with the rest of the world."


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