Reid Watts has received the call to the big time.
The luger, who recently turned 17, received a heck of a birthday present. He'll be making the jump from the youth 'A' to the senior level for the remainder of the season.
Watts revealed on his Facebook page in December he had earned the promotion, beginning with a Viessmann World Cup race in Sigulda, Latvia this weekend.
"It all came up as a surprise, really," Watts said in a phone interview. "The first half (of the season) for the senior team had ended and as soon as the last race was done, I got a call from my coach.
"I was super excited."
In addition to his big debut in Latvia this weekend, Watts will also stick around for two German events — a World Cup race in Oberhof and the World Championships in Konigssee before returning to those his age for the Junior World Championships in Winterberg and the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Lillehammer, Norway.
"It's going to be a challenge but I think I'm ready for it. It's going to be fun," he said.
Luge Canada high-performance director Walter Corey said Watts, who had a top finish of third at the youth 'A' level this season, has impressed the top brass and has earned his shot at the world's top level. Corey added getting Watts into action will help Luge Canada feel better about its chances down the line, notably the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
"Reid's had a good stretch of riding here this season and built on his success toward the end of that year," Corey said. "We have a process inside our criteria that allows for a rotation of athletes and the staff felt it was time to give Reid a shot in view of helping our men's program move forward and starting the process to prepare for 2022."
Canuck veteran Sam Edney is taking this season off to nurse some injuries and attend school, leaving third-year sliders Mitch Malyk and John Fennell as the two main men on the team. Corey felt it was worthwhile to call up Watts, especially after the upswing in ability he's shown over the past two seasons.
"Last year, he really took on a lot of sliding doing two disciplines with the singles and doubles. He came along quite well. This year, with the singles, he was in a good spot right away in the fall and continued with some training with the national team over in Europe for a couple weeks," he said. "That was really a good indication of where the staff felt Reid's skills had improved and they'd like to see if they could build on that momentum.
"More importantly, it shows that we're definitely focused on not just developing the best athletes of the time but we've got to keep looking deeper in the system to bring a few more along to give them their chance."
The biggest difference Watts expects to contend with is less opportunity to train, noting senior racers receive fewer runs at tracks in advance of events.
"On the senior circuit, you definitely don't get as many runs to train as on the junior circuit. I'm going to have to adapt fast," he said, noting junior riders get about a dozen runs while the seniors get roughly eight. "Then you're on your own to figure out a whole new track. It's something else, that's for sure, but I think that'll be fun."
And if challenges are enjoyable to Watts, he'll be having a blast straightaway. He's never tackled the Sigulda track, and though it's tough, it should play to his strengths.
"This is going to be a new one. I've heard a lot about it and how it's a super-challenging track but I'm going to have to find out for myself," he said. "I like those more technical tracks, so hopefully it's in my favour there."
Watts will see the pace pick up as he moves through his time with the team, and his desire will be tested in the weeks to come, Corey explained.
"He's going to see the amount of work that's ahead of him if he wants to be an elite athlete in the sport of luge and we're definitely hoping he'll embrace that. This experience can help him and can help the rest of his training out here pushing forward in the lead-up to 2018 and 2022," he said. "He's not on a straight one-way ticket. He's still in the development phase of his career, but he's in a situation where, given his age, we can race him in a bunch of different categories at the moment and we're utilizing that."
Corey also cited Mount Currie racer's Jenna Spencer first World Cup start in the season-opener in Igls, Austria as a major milestone for the region with her 20th-place showing. The doubles team of Matt Riddle and Adam Shippit, also beneficiaries of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games legacies, got into the game last month at the World Cup stop in Calgary but did not complete the race.