Canada’s luge relay team doesn’t want the 2014 Olympic bronze medal heading their way to impact final preparations for the 2018 Winter Games.
Sam Edney, Alex Gough, Justin Snith and Tristan Walker learned Friday their fourth-place finish in Sochi will be upgraded to bronze — the country’s first Olympic luge medal — as a result of doping allegations against Russian competitors.
But a Luge Canada spokesman said in an email that while the team members exchanged high fives during a practice session upon hearing the news, they wouldn’t be commenting as they continue working towards the Pyeongchang Olympics, which get underway Feb. 9.
“When I talked to them they were all really excited to keep training and get after it,” Luge Canada high-performance director Walter Corey said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “Each of them has their own story at this point in the season.”
The International Olympic Committee ruled Friday in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the last 11 of 46 current doping cases, and said all have been disqualified from the Sochi Games and banned from the Olympics for life.
The athletes, in five different sports, include Albert Demchenko, the silver medallist in men’s luge and mixed team luge relay.
A second member of the mixed team, Tatiana Ivanova, has also been also disqualified for taking part in organized doping.
Canada finished behind gold medallist Germany, Russia and bronze winner Latvia, which now moves up a step on the podium, in Sochi. Germany also gains a bronze in the men’s event, while Italy moves up to silver.
“It’s too early to believe it’s even true, to be honest,” said Corey. “We’ve got another big event (the Olympics) that we’ve been training for that’s kind of sucked up all our focus anyhow.”
A television commentator at the 2014 Games, former Canadian luger Jeff Christie expected to be calling the country’s first Olympic medal in the sport before Edney, Gough and Snith, all from Calgary, and Walker, of Cochrane, Alta., finished a tenth of a second off the podium in the relay.
“It’s the big issue of doping in sport,” Christie said Friday in Calgary. “People say, ‘Don’t worry, eventually the medal will get awarded.’ There’s the time, there’s the moment. Athletes live for the moment. The moment wasn’t there.”
Corey said the group was disappointed to leave Russia empty-handed after finishing fourth in three separate events, but quickly pivoted to turn it into a positive.
“We held our head high and left and regrouped and tried to build towards 2018,” he said. “That was more of the focus … rather than a bunch of conspiracy theories.
“Our program was trending really well … we still saw that as a strong showing.”
Corey added that while the athletes didn’t get the recognition at the time, it doesn’t take away from the accomplishment.
“Everyone wants a fairy-tale experience,” he said. “Whether it’s your sporting career or getting engaged or any of those life-altering moments, you want them to be like a fairy tale, but it is what it is.”
Edney, Gough, Snith and Walker finished second in the relay at a World Cup race earlier this month on their home track in Calgary, just 0.041 seconds back of the Germans.
The Canadians are also hitting their stride at the right time in individual competition.
Gough won back-to-back silver medals in a pair of women’s World Cup races, Edney earned a second-place of his own in Calgary, and Snith and Walker picked up a doubles bronze in Lake Placid, N.Y.
While Christie said there’s no point in dwelling on the past, he did point out that luge funding was impacted by the lack of medals in Sochi.
“They were a Tier 3 sport,” he said. “They could have been a Tier 2 spot with (Own the Podium). What could that have done?
“They’re still all there. Maybe the four years have pushed them to be even better.”
Notes: Two Russian cross-country skiers disqualified Friday, Nikita Kryukov and Alexander Bessmertnykh, already lost team event medals in recent weeks when other teammates were disqualified. … Of the 46 hearings, three athletes were cleared.