A season away has done a world of wonders for Sam Edney.
In 2015-16, the 32-year-old from Calgary concentrated on finishing his commerce degree, as well as ridding himself of nagging injuries that plagued him after 16 years of competition.
Edney was back with a bang at the National Luge Championships at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Saturday, Oct. 22, passing Mitchel Malyk in his second run to take the men's title. Edney edged Malyk by 0.063 seconds. Whistler junior Reid Watts was third, 0.466 seconds back. Squamish's Nicky Klimchuk-Brown was fourth.
"For me, I'm coming back with a really fresh mindset and a change of perspective on what my goals are. Obviously, the end goal is purely a medal or bust at PyeongChang," Edney said, later saying he plans to retire after the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. "It's nice to come back with a weight off my shoulders with school being done and knowing that I'm working toward one strict goal."
Edney noted he decided after consulting friends and family after the 2014-15 season to take the time off, feeling he'd grind himself down too much to mount a real challenge for 2018.
Edney enjoyed a strong season that year, snagging a World Cup win in Calgary, but the hiatus proved his fire for luge was still burning.
"It was important. I've been doing it for 16 years at the national team level so it took its toll on me physically. My body was feeling pretty tired and mentally, too, I was feeling pretty tired. I wanted to heal my body up and take a moment away from the sport," Edney said. "It really showed me the parts and the moments that I loved about the sport and what really kept that passion driving. To see my teammates and my competitors when I was watching them race, that drive was still there and how I just wanted to be competing still."
Even with the early-season win. Edney knows there are still plenty of ways he can improve on his sliding. In addition to helping him trim those spare milliseconds from his time, he's also hoping to stay healthier and physically strong, too.
"I wouldn't say I'm in my peak physical form but that's not what's important right now," he said. "I'm also just feeling like my body can push itself to the limits. We've also pinpointed some things I can do to be more precise or work on some specific areas to make sure that I avoid many of these injuries.
"I'm still competitive with where I need to be, but knowing that the major thing is still 480 days away or whatever it is (468 as of Oct. 27), that's what really counts."
Still, with sliders like Malyk pushing hard and Watts potentially finding himself in the Olympic mix if he continues his ascent, it's not like Edney can exactly lean back with a guarantee he'll go to PyeongChang.
"I'm not a sure thing on the team, either. We've got some really strong competition from the guys coming up on the team," he said. "We're all pushing the expectations for the Canadian team and we're all doing well together."
On the women's side, Alex Gough led all the way through and bested Kim McRae by 0.153 seconds. Rachel Klassen took third, sitting 0.298 seconds back, while Mount Currie's Jenna Spencer was fifth.
Gough was also focusing on school last season, working toward her engineering degree, but with the Games approaching, she's back to being all-in in her sport.
"I've been split between going to school and competing the past two years. This is my first full go with competing and it's nice to come out and win Canadian Championships here," Gough said. "I'm looking forward to what's coming for the rest of the season.
"I was just taking a break going into the Games in 2018. I'm about halfway through my engineering degree and I wanted to get some done (before the Games)... When I retire from the sport, I'm partway into it and can pick it up when I'm done here."
With a renewed focus on the sport, Gough feels like she'll be right back to form for the coming season, finding herself higher up on the board than she did last season.
"Last year was a bit of a struggle with consistency because I wasn't fully focused on competing, so I'd like to see some improvements on that end and get back into being in that top-five range where I've been in the past and pushing for the podium on the World Cup (tour)," Gough said.
Like the men's side, Gough also realizes she'll have to keep putting up strong results to punch her next Olympic ticket.
"It's a great group we have right now with the other girls that are racing. They're pushing hard, which is pushing me to keep improving," Gough said. "We have some really good depth coming up. Kim is super strong this year and getting better every year. We've got a few of the younger girls coming up and pushing for spots on the national team, which is going to be really good for the sport."
In the doubles event, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith took the title by 1.347 seconds over Matt Riddle and Adam Shippit.