Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Winter

Canadian luge gold worth $1M: sponsor

After years of slumming it, Canada's Olympic luge team has a chance to move into sport's high-rent neighbourhood.

After years of slumming it, Canada's Olympic luge team has a chance to move into sport's high-rent neighbourhood.

An Alberta sponsor has offered a $1-million prize to any Canadian luger who wins a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

"That's huge for us to be offered that sort of thing," Calgary's Alex Gough said Tuesday, a few moments after learning about the golden carrot.

Sam Edney said the offer shows the potential of Canada's luge team.

"A year ago we had no title sponsor," said the Calgary resident, who is considered a threat in the men's event. "Now we've got a group of people that believe in us so much they are willing to put that kind of money on the line."

The cash is being put up by Fast Track Group, a company that bills itself as a financial education specialist.

"I guess I'm blessed financially and I wanted to share," company founder Darren Weeks said in a telephone interview from St. Albert, Alta.

The million-dollar prize would be split between the athlete and the Canadian Luge Association. There is only a single $1-million windfall available, so if athletes win more than one gold, they'll have to divide the money among themselves.

The company is also offering $50,000 for each silver and bronze medal. There will be a $5,000 reward for the top Canadian in men's and women's singles and doubles. The athletes can pocket all the cash.

Fast Track Group is also sponsoring the luge team to the tune of $1,002,014 over five years.

The offer is not only for the Vancouver Games, but also stands for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Weeks said since becoming the team sponsor, he noticed the disparity in the financial rewards received by some sports. Alpine skiers, figure skaters, snowboarders and speedskaters can earn six-figure salaries in sponsorships.

Luge athletes, meanwhile, are forced to get by on much less.

"I was trying to level the playing field and give them more exposure," said Weeks. "As an entrepreneur you do things on the spur of the moment. I thought, why not?"

Weeks has not taken out an insurance policy in case he needs to shell out the $1 million.

A Canadian medal in luge is considered a long shot, however, at least on paper. The team's best hopes are Gough and Edney.

Gough, 22, finished in the top six four times this year on the World Cup and was No. 4 at last year's world championships.

Currently ranked seventh in the world, she was 20th at the 2006 Games in Turin.

Edney, 25, finished a career-best fifth to kick off this season and also posted a seventh-place finish. He was 12th in Whistler in the pre-Olympic test event last year and is ranked 15th in the world.

Focus is on job at hand: Gough

Gough said visions of mansions and fast cars won't be dancing through her head at the start line.

"We still have to go out there and do our job," she said. "It's just about going out there and sliding and doing the best we can. If we can put it down and slide to our potential, we do have a shot. In the end, it's really out of our hands."

Edney said he'd love to grab the brass ring, but it's still the lure of gold that is driving him.

All of us going into this Olympics are not thinking about this million dollars," he said. "We come in here to compete, represent our country, and go for the best results you can.

"If that turns out to be a gold medal, what that is and what that is worth is more than what they [First Track] are offering. At the same time, that kind of support and push is unbelievable. It definitely lights something in each of us."

Mike Moffat, who competes in the double luge with his brother Chris, said most athletes don't have a retirement plan waiting for them.

"We've never made money," he said. "We've been supported by our families. It would be nice to get some financial security. Do I compete to win a million? No, not at all. It would be a nice bonus."

Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, Alta., who is competing in her third Games, said she would use the money to replace her motorcycle, which was stolen.

Moffat said the cash would be just one more thing he'd have to share with his brother.

"We have shared rooms, shared beds," Mike laughed. "Chris and I have shared everything in life. It only make sense to share the money. I might cash the cheque though, and withhold a little bit."

Edney said he would donate some of his winnings to Right to Play, a non-profit group that uses sport to help disadvantaged children. And after that?

"I'd buy some new skis to try and ski at Whistler," he said.

The Canadian Olympic Committee has also promised a medals bonus, with $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.