Canada's lugers eager for home track advantage
Team in flux with key veterans missing, coming off injury
Canada's luge team is in flux heading into their home stop on the World Cup.
Veteran Sam Edney is taking the season off to heal nagging injuries accumulated over 16 years of sliding and also to pursue a commerce degree.
Canada's most decorated slider Alex Gough will compete in women's singles Friday in Calgary, but is racing less these days in order to take civil engineering classes.
Arianne Jones, who won bronze in last year's World Cup in Calgary, sat out the first three World Cups this season to heal a serious back injury. Her first race of the season will be Friday at Canada Olympic Park.
The Canadians were stellar on their home track in 2014. Edney won gold, Gough and Jones took silver and bronze respectively, and the doubles team of Justin Snith and Tristan Walker collected a bronze.
That performance will be difficult to match in 2015, particularly because of the U.S. team's strong start to the season.
Gough has earned over 20 World Cup and world championship medals since 2010. The first North American to consistently challenge the traditional dominance of German women was fourth at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Balancing school, sliding
The 27-year-old Calgarian came home from Sochi wanting to start planning for life after sport. Now in her second year of balancing school and sliding, her race preparation this week includes writing university exams.
"They're not conflicting with races, which they could," Gough said Tuesday at COP's Ice House. "It's a little stressful until Wednesday at 6:30 and then I'm done and I get to relax and slide.
"Hopes and goals are to have a really great race, great runs and see where that lands me."
Gough took bronze in Germany to open this season and then skipped a World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., for school. She was second after her first run in Park City, Utah, last Friday, but dropped to sixth because of a mistake on her second pass down the track.
Gough will race five of eight World Cups and the world championship in 2015-16. Her parents are both civil engineers and her brother will also be one when he graduates.
Gough wants to finish her degree in 2016 and then prepare for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"For me, I don't know what my plan is after 2018, but if I retire and start school, I don't want to be starting at 31," Gough explained. "It's tough enough being a mature student at my age now with first and second year. It's nice to have a head start on it."
Edney's absence impacts Canada's relay team. Edney, Gough and Walker and Snith were fourth in Sochi and have won World Cup and world championship medals together.
The situation is frustrating for Wolfgang Staudinger. Canada's coach of eight years came from Germany where athletes don't worry about money or careers.
German lugers are employed by the army or the police force. They're paid to slide and have a career when they retire.
"They don't have to worry about studies or an income," Staudinger said. "That's the reason these guys slide until 35 years of age."
The World Cup opens Friday with men's doubles and women's singles followed by men's singles and new sprint races Saturday.
In sprint races, the clock starts lower down the track. Winners are determined over one run instead of the combined time of two.
The world governing body of luge tested sprints on the World Cup circuit last season and will introduce it to the 2016 world championships. Gough was second and Edney third in the Calgary sprints last year.
"They're worth full World Cup points. We have to take them seriously because they are a legitimate race," Snith said.
Jones, 25, suffered a stress fracture in her lower back while training in June.
"I wasn't sure if I was ever going to be racing again," Jones said. "To go from that to be able to race this week, I have a whole new perspective and I'm really excited."
Canada's lugers collaborated with local artists and children who have suffered brain injuries on new helmets, which the Canadians will wear for the first time in Calgary.
The helmets will be auctioned off in February to raise money for the Helmets for Heroes and for programs assisting children with brain injuries.