Luge Canada had a banner weekend at Igls, Austria with a gold medal in the inaugural World Cup team luge event — a new event approved for the Olympics in 2014 — and a bronze medal for standout Alex Gough. Other athletes also cracked the top 10.
"It is great to start the season off on a high note and a good feeling to know that I still got it," said Gough, who crashed on the course last year. "We have such a long off-season so you always want to know where you stand. It is nice to get this one out of the way and now I can focus on moving forward."
Last season Gough became the first Canadian to climb a podium at a World Cup luge event, then climbed it three more times. She won gold in the finals, becoming the first non-German to win an event in 105 races, going back to November of 1997. She also won a world championship bronze medal, making another entry in Canadian luge history.
Gough has raised her own expectations of herself since last season.
"It took so long for anyone to step up to the plate and say the Germans aren't unbeatable," she said. "I didn't plan to be that person, but got lucky and had a great race. I now feel like I belong in that group and have been consistently at the top since, but there is lots of work still to do. I do have some reserves, especially at the start, and I need to continue pushing myself to be better on the starts, have two clean runs and focus on the things that I can control."
Tatjana Hufner and Anke Wishnewski of Germany were first and second.
Ariane Jones, in her second year with the team, placed eighth in the women's race. Kim McRae and Dayna Clay — both rookies — cracked the top 20 in 12th and 19th respectively.
In the men's doubles, Tristan Walk and Justin Snith placed ninth overall. The top three teams were from Austria, Russia and Germany.
Sam Edney was the only male racer to be competetive in the men's luge, placing 16th overall. The top three were a who's-who of luge medallists for the past decade, with Felix Loch of Germany in front, David Moller of Germany in second and Armin Zoggeler of Italy in third.
The big news for Canada was a win in the team relay event, which is new to the sport and has already been granted inclusion into the Olympic Games in 2014. Each team is comprised of a male, female and doubles team. The first luger starts the clock by passing the start beam, and then starts their teammate by hurrying off the track and pressing a button that opens the start gate up top. The team with the lowest cumulative time between runs and exchanges wins.
Last weekend it was the Canadian team. Gough started the team off with a fast run, and then launched Edney, who then launched Walker and Snith. They finished with a total time of 2:08.774, almost two-tenths of a second ahead of Germany. Russia placed third.
"The team event is about putting three quality runs together and posting a solid time," said Edney. "We did that and it is a sweet victory for us. Winning a team event shows the success of the entire program. We are growing up together as a group. People now look at Canada differently, and are realizing that we are contenders every time we participate in one of these competitions. Being on the circuit for a number of years now, that is a good feeling."
Coach Wolfgang Staudinger, a German coach who is credited for the success of the program, was excited for the win. "That was some badass sliding today," he said. "It was solid racing in a really tough competition. The event is now in the Olympics and is no joke anymore. The world takes it very seriously."
The next stop for luge is the FIL Viessmann World Cup taking place at Whistler Sliding Centre on Dec. 9-10, which will include the team relay event. Tickets for the event are $10 (kids six and under are free), and available online at www.whistler.com. You can also pick up tickets at the box office outside of the Whistler Conference Centre, and they will be sold on the day of the event at the Excalibur Gondola.
The men's doubles event takes place on Friday, Dec. 9 from 3 to 5 p.m., while the men's race is from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
The women's race — which will feature Alex Gough, the first Canadian to win a World Cup and world championship medal last season — is on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., followed by the team relay.