Edney achieves best-ever Canadian men's luge result

Germany's Loch becomes youngest men's luge champion

Picking up momentum throughout a tragedy-tinged competition, Calgary's Sam Edney produced the best-ever Canadian Olympic luge finish in men's singles luge at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 14), in front of the invigorating screams of his home-country fans.

With the men sliding on a shortened course, leaving from the usual women's start position in the wake of the tragic crash that took the life of Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday (Feb. 12), Edney finished in seventh place after posting the third-fastest final run among all the competitors.

Edney said he was "extremely proud" of his finish, and he was energized by the home crowd. He sat at the top of his fourth and final run wanting only to hit the finish line to hear the roars of the Canadian-flag-waving and banner-toting fans at the track's end.

"Today was a real testament to where the Canadian luge program is going to be in the future," Edney said.

Germany's Felix Loch, a powerhouse two-time world champion at just 20 years old, claimed his country's first gold medal of the 2010 Games by dominating the field throughout the four competition runs. Loch became the youngest ever Olympic men's luge champion with his victory, sliding to the top of the podium with teammate David Moeller claiming silver.

"It's unbelievable for me, because at age 20 years I would never have expected this was possible," a beaming Loch said through a translator in a post-race press conference.

"It's unbelievable for me, because at age 20 years I would never have expected this was possible," a beaming Loch said through a translator in a post-race press conference.

"It was a very, very emotional race," Moeller said, noting that the tragic accident and change in start position made things challenging for everyone.

Canada's Jeff Christie earned his second Olympic 14th-place finish, while Ian Cockerline slid into 20th place, improving after he sat 21st after the first two runs. Cheered on by family, friends and fans who sported signs with slogans such as "Jeff's Red Hot," Edney, Christie and Cockerline all said they were thrilled with the home-crowd Olympic experience.

"The home crowd was amazing. I could not believe it. It far exceeded my expectations. You know, with the disappointment of moving down to the women's start, I think the crowd was the thing that made it still a special Olympics. They made it special," Cockerline said.

Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger, who said his athletes strongly met all the challenges thrown at them, particularly lauded Edney's precedent-setting performance.

"We were keeping an eye on between a fourth-place to an eighth-place (finish), from the top with the home-field advantage. After the home-field advantage was taken away from us, I said, 'Oh God, what's going to happen now?' Because I know our weaknesses and it's the start. There's a lot of very fast starters," Staudinger said.

"But I think that basically Sam Edney came through, he pulled through, he got better and better through the competition, and that's what makes a top athlete. He proved under pressure to perform, and I'm extremely happy and extremely proud of him."

The change in the start position had a major impact on the competition, many of said, because the women's start, flatter than the men's start, favoured strong starters rather than skilled drivers.

Zoeggeler and Russia's Albert Demtschenko, who led the 2009-'10 World Cup standings, were identified by some as the main men to beat heading into the Olympics, but once the start position was changed, many of the athletes said the Germans would benefit because of their strong starting skills.

Leading the field briefly after his last run, Demtschenko crumpled over as he watched Zoeggeler seize the lead and raise his fist in triumph. First Moeller, then Loch, joyfully took over first place with their final runs, leaving Zoeggeler with a bronze medal to set him alongside German luge legend Georg Hackl and biathlete Ricco Gross as the male athletes who have won five consecutive Olympic medals in the same event.

Saying he made a mistake in his third run, where he posted the sixth-fastest time, Zoeggeler said he was "just delighted that I managed to beat the Russian in the fourth run" and happy to be back on the podium.

Moeller said the starting position might have given him a better chance to win a medal, but he added that Loch's times from the first training run - held from the men's start - showed he was also strong. Moeller, who was at the Whistler track's homologation, and Loch also finished first and third at the World Cup race held in Whistler last February.

Meanwhile the Canadians could have benefitted from the steeper men's start and having more space to drive the track, since they have trained so much on the Whistler course. Staudinger expressed frustration at losing the home-field advantage, but said his athletes still persevered through the challenges.

International Luge Federation (FIL) officials said the decision to change the start position was mainly made to help address the emotional aspects of the tragic situation, backed by a desire to help alleviate athletes' potential trauma. Some, such as Zoeggeler, said the change was the right decision, while others said they would have wanted to slide from the men's start.

Launching off from the Whistler men's start, lugers have reached speeds up to 154 kilometres per hour, while the speeds reached with the men sliding from the women's start topped out around 147.5 kilometres per hour.

Kumaritashvili died after crashing in the final curve during his last pre-Games training run. An investigation by the FIL found that driving errors caused the tragic accident.

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