CALGARY — Canada will send a veteran luge team to its home track in Whistler, B.C., next February in the hopes of finally breaking through to the Olympic podium.
The 10-member luge team, led by medal hopefuls Alex Gough and Sam Edney, were introduced to the media and public Saturday beside the Olympic display in the downtown Hudson’s Bay store.
“It’s exciting,” said Gough, who was a wide-eyed 18-year-old when she finished 20th at the Turin Olympics in 2006.
Since then, the Calgary-born slider has taken great strides toward breaking onto a podium dominated by the German team.
Gough was 4th at the World Championships in Lake Placid this year and 4th last month at the World Cup event in Igls, Austria.
Preparing for the Olympics at the Whistler Sliding Centre, she said she is focusing on the journey and not the finish line.
“I’m such a process sort of person. I might hope to finish somewhere, but if I set myself up with a goal to finish in (a certain) position, it’s a mental block.
“It’s run by run: pull fast starts, have clean, consistent runs, then I know I can finish in a position I can be happy with.”
Joining her on the women’s side is Regan Lauscher of Red Deer and Regina’s Meaghan Simister.
This will be the third Olympics for the 29-year-old Lauscher who finished 10th at Turin. She has struggled on the World Cup circuit this season, recording just one top-10 finish.
She said she is still experimenting and fine-tuning her sled.
“Mentally I’m in a good spot. I don’t have to peak yet, so I’m not too concerned.”
Team coach Wolfgang Staudinger says Lauscher is still feeling the effects of double-shoulder surgery in 2008.
“Her strength levels don’t currently allow for faster start times,” he said.
“If she can bring up her start times to (those of) Alex, she can compete at the same level,” he said, adding they have Lauscher on a specialized regimen to do just that.
Simister, 23, is already among the fastest in the world out of the start handles, but needs to have more consistent runs down the track.
She crashed on her third run in Turin and didn’t finish the race.
On the men’s side, Edney has been the Canadian surprise of the season, flirting with drive times on this year’s World Cup circuit that match the sport’s elite racers like Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler and Felix Loch and David Moeller of Germany.
The 25-year-old Calgarian was 5th at the Calgary World Cup race in November, and eighth earlier this month in Altenberg, Germany.
Edney was 19th at Turin. He will slide with Vancouver-born Jeff Christie and Calgary’s Ian Cockerline. Christie, 26, was 14th in Turin and has finished well back in the field in two of three races this World Cup season. Cockerline, 25, crashed in the fourth run at Turin in 2006 and didn’t finish. He won a race-off on the Whistler track last week to make the Olympic team.
In doubles, the Calgary brother team of Chris and Mike Moffat will suit up again for the Games. They were 9th at Turin.
Newcomers Tristan Walker of Cochrane and Calgary’s Justin Snith will make their first Olympic appearance.
Both teams have more or less been a fixture on the back half of the field this World Cup season.
The Games are expected to be a barometer of Canada’s commitment to the sport. The luge program has received $3.4 million over five years as part of Canada’s Own The Podium development program, to go with a million dollars pledged by title sponsor Fast Track Capital.
The key acquisition has been Staudinger, a former coach with the German team signed to a seven-year deal. He has modelled Canada’s program after the German one: sleds built in-house to custom specifications; renewed emphasis on strength training and better start times.
“He (Staudinger) says there’s nothing different from us than the Germans now — same sled, same athletes, same strength,” said Edney.
“It’s head now. It’s all in the head.”