Despite some modest success on the World Cup circuit, Canada's luge team has never won an Olympic medal, since the sport debuted in 1964.
With the selection of a veteran team last week, the Canadian Luge Association has been working to fix that. The Own The Podium development programs has given $3.4 million to the sport over the past five years, with another million coming from Fast Track Capital. That allowed the team to hire coach Wolfgang Staudinger from the always dominant German program.
German women swept the podium at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics and earned two of three medals in 1998. Although the German men won just three of nine medals, largely because of the performance of Italy's Armin Zoggeler (two gold, one silver and one bronze in the past four Winter Games, and he's back again in 2010), the team remains a force to be reckoned with.
The 10-member Canadian luge team was rolled out in Vancouver on Dec. 19. The women's team includes Alex Gough, Regan Lauscher and Meaghan Simister, while Sam Edney, Jeff Christie and Ian Cockerline will represent the men. In doubles, Canada will be represented by brothers Chris and Mike Moffat, and newcomers Tristan Walker and Justin Snith.
While Lauscher is a World Cup medal winner the fact she had surgery on both shoulders in 2008 has affected her starts this year, although she is getting quicker by the week. Meanwhile Gough has been knocking on the podium door, placing fourth in the world championships and fourth again at a World Cup race at the start of this season.
"It's run by run," she said. "Pull fast starts, have clean, consistent runs, then I know I can finish in a position I can be happy with."
Edney has led the men's team so far this season, and is on par in test runs with the top European racers. He was also fifth at the World Cup in Calgary this year and eighth in Altenberg, Germany.
"In past years I've shown glimpses that I can do this, but I think I've been hesitant," he said. "This year I've gone into it really just planning to have a consistent year and slide to my ability."
Canada's improved results in World Cup events the past two seasons have allowed the team to field three men and three women, plus two pairs teams. Some nations will have up to four athletes, while others will be allotted one or two spots.
The sport of luge requires the pilot to start from a sitting position, using their arms to rock back and forth to warm up their runners and then push out of the start gate. After that they can steer down the course by applying pressure to the skis of their sled with their legs, which can be challenging at speeds over 150 km/h that have been recorded at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Body position and picking the fastest line are extremely important, as is getting a good push out of the gate to build momentum.
The sleds themselves are carefully regulated, although some teams have worked within the rules to produce faster or more nimble sled designs. There are weight restrictions on both sleds and speed suits, and the sleds are watched carefully to ensure that racers don't cheat by warming up the runners.
In the single events the racers get four runs on the track and the winner has the lowest combined time. Doubles teams make two runs.
Start position is determined by qualifying time rather than world rankings, and early start times are considered better because ice can deteriorate over the day.