Canadians slide to bronze medal at luge World Cup in Whistler, B.C.

WHISTLER, B.C. — A fresh-faced Canadian team slid to World Cup bronze on Saturday, showing promise for the future.

Canada’s Tristan Walker, Justin Snith, Kyla Graham and Reid Watts posted a time of two minutes, 4.413 seconds, in the team relay event in Whistler, B.C.

It was Canada’s first World Cup medal of the year, coming on the second stop on this season’s circuit.

Russia took first in the relay with a time of 2:04.124. The Germans came in second.

Saturday’s result shows the Canadians’ strengths, said Snith, a three-time Olympian from Calgary and one of the team’s few remaining veterans.

“It’s three runs, three different disciplines and you have to be solid all the way across the board to land on the podium,” he said. “And that’s what we did here today at home and we look forward to more.”

Snith and his doubles partner Tristan Walker, a fellow Calgarian, helped capture Olympic silver in the team relay at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, but the crew had a different makeup than the one that raced on Saturday.

“Justin and I have been through a lot of different iterations of the team and all the different combinations have been able to make it on to the podium,” Walker said. “It’s really exciting that we still have that drive, even with a bunch of fresh faces on the team.”

Whistler’s Watts, 19, raced the men’s portion of the relay for Canada and Calgary’s Graham, 19, slid the women’s leg.

Graham is competing on the senior World Cup circuit for the first time this year and said the future is bright for Canadian luge.

“We just have to get more experience to get where Alex Gough and Sam Edney were,” she said. “But we’ll probably make it there one day.”

Gough was the first Canadian to ever win an Olympic medal in luge, capturing bronze in the women’s singles event in Pyeongchang. She was one of several Canadian lugers to leave the sport after the games.

Graham was the top Canadian in the women’s event earlier on Saturday, placing 18th.

She said her second run of the day was one of the best she’s had in Whistler.

“I just chilled out, laid on my sled, got comfy and it was overall pretty good,” she said.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger won the women’s race with a combined two-run time of 1:16.904.

The 30-year-old also broke a two-year-old track record, posting a time of 38.510 seconds on her second run.

It was Geisenberger’s second World Cup win in the event this year.

Having a strong start feels great, she said.

“After the summer you don’t know where you stand. Of course you hope, but you never know,” she said.

Geisenberger’s teammate Julia Taubitz took home silver while American Emily Sweeney captured bronze.

Saturday marked Sweeney’s first race after a major crash at the Olympics left her with multiple back fractures.

“It was interesting to race again,” said the 25-year-old. “There were a lot of mixed emotions.”

Sweeney arrived in Whistler a week before the race to get comfortable with the track and said she had a lot of confidence going in.

“There’s still a big uphill battle for me ahead. So it was really validating for me to have two solid runs,” she said.

In addition to the women’s event, Sweeney raced in the team relay, where the Americans finished sixth.

At the end of Saturday’s races, her back was feeling tight, in part because of a series of bumps she took against the walls at the end of her second run in the singles event.

Her third place finish in the women’s singles qualifies Sweeney for the world championships in Germany in January.

Until then, she’ll continue to train but doesn’t plan on going to every World Cup event.

“I just want to be at my best and be ready for world championships,” Sweeney said.

The World Cup circuit stops in Calgary next weekend.

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