Canada cemented its status as one of the world powers in luge on Saturday as national team athletes doubled the country’s all-time world championship medal count on their home track.
Alex Gough teamed up with Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith to earn silver in team relay just hours after she captured a bronze medal in women’s singles racing in the FIL Luge World Championships at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
Previously, Gough’s individual bronze in 2011 and the same foursome’s third-place relay result last year were Canada’s only medals won at the world championships.
“It was a weekend of close, close results,” said Edney. “We had a successful Saturday and Alex gave the other three of us the encouragement that we deserved to be on the podium. It just feels really good to be on there in front of this home crowd.”
In team relay, each squad uses one male, female and doubles sled, with the athletes hitting a lever at the finish line to open the start gate for the next teammate. The Canadians recorded a total time of two minutes 4.472 seconds, finishing as runners-up to the powerhouse German team.
Germany finished in 2:03.826 to take gold, its lineup consisting of the world champions crowned in the individual disciplines throughout the weekend — Felix Loch, Natalie Geisenberger and doubles duo Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Latvia placed third with a time of 2:04.854.
“I’m extremely proud today because this is something I didn’t expect,” said Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger. “Having two medals walking away from worlds has never happened in Canada a so this is fantastic.”
Earlier Saturday, Gough led a strong showing from the Canadian women as three from the host nation finished in the top eight.
Calgary residents Kim McRae and Arianne Jones placed seventh and eighth, respectively, while fellow Canadian Jordan Smith finished 19th.
Gough, 25, finished with a two-run, combined time of one minute 13.546 seconds to rank third on Saturday.
“It feels really good. It’s tough to be that close to the silver medal and not be there, but I’m still really happy with my performance,” said Gough, who was just 12 thousandths of a second out of the runner-up spot.
“I felt like I had really good, consistent runs, and I felt like I slid as well as I have all week, so I have to be happy with that.”
Canadian fans at the finish dock chanted Gough’s name as she began her second run and erupted in celebration when her time appeared, indicating a podium finish.
“I could hear some of the cowbells going,” said Gough. “They were definitely a great crowd and they were super loud and supportive, so I’m happy to see everyone out.”
Germany’s Geisenberger won her first world championship title, finishing in 1:13.428. German teammate Tatjana Hufner, the Olympic and two-time defending world champ, finished second in 1:13.534.
“It’s perfect. It’s a big dream to get a gold medal at the world championships and the dream is true now,” said a smiling Geisenberger. “I had a perfect set-up on my sled and nearly-perfect starts.”
As expected, the Germans dominated the weekend of racing in Whistler, taking home eight of a possible 10 medals and all four gold medals. Canada was the only other country to end the event with multiple podium finishes.
In the next year leading up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the Canadians will be focused on closing the gap on their German rivals. Team relay will be a medal event at the Games for the first time in 2014.
“We need to keep working the way we are,” said Gough. “We keep coming closer and closer a and we need to continue to do that and keep fighting for it. Yes, it is frustrating to see (Germany) on top all the time, but we are going to fight for it (in the next year).”