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Luge up next for sliding centre

Canadians on a roll coming home to compete

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Following the successful bobsleigh and skeleton World Cup events at the Whistler Sliding Centre last weekend, the WSL is hard at work preparing the world's fastest track for luge World Cup events Feb. 21-22.

The sport is similar to bobsleigh and skeleton, as athletes ride specially adapted sleds down an ice course with the goal of posting the fastest time.

There are a few differences, however. For one, lugers compete on their backs, using their legs and shoulders to steer. Putting your head back makes racers more aerodynamic, but it also makes it harder to see.

Luge athletes also make four runs on a track instead of two, with the best two results counting towards the overall result.

Depending on the track, luge is also considered one the fastest of the sliding sports. The course records around the world belong either to luge athletes or four-man bobsleigh teams.

Before the bobsleigh World Cup, a member of the Canadian luge team held the record speed at Whistler Sliding Centre, almost 149 km/h. The four-man bobsleigh teams upped the ante to 153.3 km/h. But with a few modifications to the course to make it smoother, more practice runs on the track, cold weather, and 3,000 cheering fans on the sidelines, anything is possible.

The lugers arrive for training on Feb. 16, fresh from the FIL World Championships at Lake Placid. The Canadian team is on a bit of a roll with Alex Gough placing fourth in the women's competition, just 0.3 seconds back of a bronze medal. It was Canada's best result yet in a luge world championship. She followed that result a week later with a sixth place finish at Calgary.

Sam Edney was the top Canadian male in the world championships, placing 17th out of 43 starters. In doubles, which is for men only, brothers Chris and Mike Moffat placed 10th.

While the team is still a collection of underdogs, results and rankings have been improving under the eye of coach Wolfgang Staudinger and the team has a few podiums to its credit. Athletes on the Olympic team have also been more consistent, and World Cup members are now ranked in the top-10.

The Canadian athletes are also more familiar with the Whistler track than other teams, giving them a home field advantage.

The women and doubles teams will compete on Friday, Feb. 20, with the women on course from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and the doubles teams from 4:30 p.m. to 6:40 p.m. The men compete under the lights on Saturday night, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tickets to the men's event are already sold out and only available from scalpers, but there are still tickets for the women's event on Friday that are available at Whistler Blackcomb ticket windows. No tickets are available on site, and organizers capped ticket sales at 3,000 spectators.

There is no event parking on site, and spectators are asked to take the Excalibur Gondola to Base II and to follow the signs to the venue.

You can also purchase tickets at the Whistler Blackcomb tickets kiosk from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on event days. There will be no ticket sales at the gate.

Access is by the Excalibur Gondola and Base II. The parking lots are reserved for skiers and for event staff.

Spectators need to follow a few rules on the site. There is no smoking in the spectator area, and flash photography is prohibited as it can distract the lugers.


Canadian lugers for sale
As one of the few Canadian winter sports organizations still without a title sponsor in the run-up to the 2010 Games, the Canadian luge team is getting creative next week during the FIL Luge World Cup.

The team is looking for $300,000 per year, and will be wearing For Sale decals on their helmets to advertise the team, and their own availability to sponsors.

"We recognize that this is a tough economic time for all Canadians, and nobody knows this better than the Canadian luge program," said Tim Farstad, executive director of the Canadian Luge Association. "Our teams of senior and junior athletes have been finding a way to achieve excellence in our sport under tight financial constraints over the last two decades, but the time has come where we need a little more support to help us reach our goals."

The team's top athletes have been getting a funding boost from the Own The Podium 2010 program, but that funding runs out next season.

At an event to launch the For Sale program, before this weekend's luge World Cup in Calgary, Regan Lauscher claimed that luge is actually more popular than other winter sports when you include tobogganing.

"Many believe luge is obscure in Canada, but I believe more Canadians actually participate in the grassroots of our sport than hockey or skiing," she said. "It is community hills like this (in Calgary) where millions of Canadians enjoy our sport on all kinds of sleds each winter and it is these hills that spark the Olympic dream in our youth."

The team also launched a program to raise money for athletes, starting a webcast series called I Love a Luger at www.ilovealuger.com. The show is about a character named Nikki who has a crush on a foreign luge star, and hopes to requite her love at the Olympics. The series will actually finish in Whistler on the eve of the Games.

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