Young lugers share track with World Cup sliders

Local athletes begin season on grand stage

While the FIBT World Cup event held at the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC) marked the beginning of the year for sliders on the tour, the Nov. 25 to 27 races allowed some others to get on the track for the first time this season as well.

A number of local youth lugers provided some of the between-heat entertainment during the bobsleigh competitions, taking runs down the lower half of the track.

"They had a great time doing that. It was awesome and it turned out very well," said Nicole Simon, program coordinator and development coach with B.C. Luge, noting that the group was approached by World Cup organizers to occupy the track during intermissions. "They had a little bit of time to fill and wanted to keep the spectators entertained."

Most of the young lugers had never taken runs in front of such large crowds before, said Simon.

"They did great," she said. "They haven't been on the track since the end of January because of the Olympics, so they've had a really long break and were just really anxious to get on the ice and get going again."

Although the elite athletes at the event were competing in skeleton and bobsleigh, luge team member Jenna Spencer said there were still things to learn from the World Cup sliders.

"It's a good experience seeing how they prepare themselves to go down the track," said Spencer. "They're a good influence."

Simon said the lugers began regular training this week as they prepare for a handful of events on the schedule.

There are eight full-time lugers with the team, six of whom took part in the World Cup runs - Whistler's own Archie Mahoney and Reid Watts, Pemberton residents Spencer, Adam Shippit and Elainah Andrew and Squamish slider Nicky Klimchuk-Brown. Also on the team but unable to participate on the weekend are Whistler's Veronica Ravenna and Pemberton's Nicole Pidperyhora.

Spencer was the lone team member to have been on the ice prior to the World Cup, having competed in the selection races for the national youth team.

As the team's veteran, she said the experience younger members of the team were able to take away from the World Cup display was outstanding.

"It might psych some kids out but you get used to performing in front of a crowd and then you start wanting to have a crowd," said Spencer. "I think it's good for your (confidence) and sliding because you want to impress people, not just your coaches but people watching or people who might want you on their team."

Spencer didn't qualify for the national youth team but is coming off a 2010 season that saw her finish third at the Canadian Championships in the youth B girls division. She said she's looking forward to her schedule of events for the upcoming year, which includes a trip to Utah Olympic Park.

"I really want to get a few corners there that I haven't been getting," said Spencer.

The entire team will have a full schedule of competitive events through the winter, said Simon.

"They'll have a bunch of local races, some B.C. Cups and they'll also have provincial championships in March, and we'll be hosting the Youth Canadian Championships here in Whistler at the end of February."

B.C. Luge has five recruitment camps planned for the WSC before the end of the season, the next scheduled for Dec. 18. Children between ages 8 to 14 will receive an on-ice introduction to the sport, taking runs on a real luge sled. For more information on recruitment camps, visit www.luge.ca.

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