Canada’s elite luge athletes started their first training runs of the Olympic season today by sporting “for sale” stickers in place of corporate logos on the front of their helmets.
The luge team held a media conference at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary to get the word out that new corporate sponsors are needed.
A similar event four years ago landed the team a $1-million sponsorship agreement with a financial company ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Games. That deal has now expired, the Canadian Luge Association said in a release.
Corporate support helped Canada’s luge athletes achieve success at the World Cup and World Championship levels, the association said.
All four athletes on this year’s team — Alex Gough, Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith — are from Calgary.
Although they’re not in danger of missing out on World Cup events or the Sochi Games, Edney said, the team needs sponsorship to continue to develop the sport at the grassroots level.
"We need the support to sustain the program that we have right now," said the veteran luger. "The support that we got from [the previous sponsors] was going into the program for the past couple of years and now you’re seeing the result from that.
"The worry is that if we go any longer without a title sponsor, then what‘s the future like? How does the sport sustain the level we’re at right now? Because we don’t have a title sponsor, we can’t send a full junior team over to Europe, which is critical for the development of our sport and the younger athletes who are the future Olympians."
The previous deal’s contribution to the development of young talent includes the emergence of Arianne Jones, Kim McRae, and doubles team Snith and Walker — who are now a potential podium threat for Canada in Sochi.
Canada is also considered a medal threat in both Gough’s women's singles event and in the relay.
Snith wasn’t around for the first title-sponsor drive, but knows the effect it had.
"The improvement the team has made from 2009 to now with that partnership has been huge," Snith said.
"We had our best world championship finishes ever, multiple medals… it’s been a drastic boost to the team and I really think it’s important to get another sponsor on board so we don’t take a step backwards and keep pushing for the podium."
Gough said she flourished under the partnership, scoring two world championship bronze medals and becoming the first non-German luger to win a World Cup race in 13 years. Although the team remains focused on success on the track, they are keen to secure a long-term sponsorship deal.
"We're hoping to get … a new partner aboard going forward, with the potential to make history in Sochi," Gough said. "That's our goal for the near future."