Luge athletes take break to train in Whistler

Canadians hopeful skipping World Cup provides advantage at world championships

Alex Gough lost ground in the World Cup standings last week, but may have gained an edge.

Gough and the rest of the Canadian national luge team skipped the races going Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 15 and 16) at Sigulda, Latvia, and spent four days in Whistler to train instead.

With the Whistler Sliding Centre now looking quite a bit like it will for the FIL World Luge Championships in February, including colder ice conditions not seen during fall preseason training, that may end up being a winning strategy.

"For me, this is probably going to be the most beneficial because I think that worlds are going to be more important than the World Cup overall," Gough said Friday afternoon (Dec. 14).

Friday was the first time Gough had a chance to slide from the new women's start position, which was recently completed and will be used in competition for the first time at the world championships. Gough said it was "like night and day" and "much more normal" compared to the old Olympic women's start, which athletes weren't particularly fond of.

"The ramp's new, so you have to get adjusted to that and the drive into (Curve 7), and even the timing of drives the whole way down have changed," she said. "So having time to adjust to that before everyone else gets here is really good."

Gough won bronze medals at the first two World Cup events of the year and was tied for third in the season standings. Skipping the races in Latvia dropped her to a distant fifth, but missing a World Cup to train on a world championship or Olympic track is a strategy that has benefitted Canadians in the past.

"We did it last year and it helped us for sure for the world championships at Altenberg," said men's team veteran Sam Edney, who finished a career-best seventh in singles at the 2012 worlds. Canada also won bronze in the team relay during that event.

Altenberg is a track where Edney has always been solid, evidenced by a sixth-place showing in the World Cup race there this season. But Whistler is another place the 28-year-old has been successful, as he posted a fifth-place World Cup result here last season to match a career high.

"I've had some pretty good results in Whistler and I hope that stays true for world championships," said Edney, who has taken more runs down the Whistler track than anyone on the men's circuit. "I have so many runs now that it gives me the opportunity to find those hundredths and thousandths where you can gain time up in the top."

In doubles, the duo of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith are also having a great year, with three top-seven finishes to start the winter of World Cup racing. Women's team members Arianne Jones and Kim McRae are capable of sliding into the top 10 as well.

As a foursome, Gough, Edney, Walker and Snith will also look to improve upon their relay bronze from last year's world championships. They took silver in Whistler last season and have one team relay podium finish so far this winter.

Despite Russia's Tatiana Ivanova breaking through for her first win at Sigulda last week, the German team has continued to dominate the sport in all four divisions. The Canadians have made clear their desire to surpass the powerhouse Germans, who seem to find their edge over the field by making the strongest starts.

But with Gough being a regular on the podium and a two-time World Cup winner, the relay team being competitive and Edney, Walker and Snith's results continually improving, it doesn't appear that the Canadians will be far behind their rivals come the world championships.

"The time that I am behind the Germans is just that little bit at the start, and I'll keep working on that and hopefully close the gap a little bit more," said Gough. "But I've made big steps in my development and it shows, because I'm among that group of women that are out ahead of the rest of the field. That's all the hard work I've put in paying off, and it proves that if you put the right work into it, you can achieve the same level they're at."

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