ALBERTA

Canada's lugers try to shake off Sochi for World Cup race at home

12/10/2014 06:34 EST | Updated 02/09/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - When Wolfgang Staudinger looks over his lugers heading into a World Cup on their home track, the coach can see a cloud from Sochi still hanging over them.

It's normal for athletes to feel a letdown in the season after an Olympic Games, but the Canadian luge team has been working through something akin to grief.

The roller-coaster emotion of finishing fourth three times and falling just short of Canada's first Olympic medal in the sport wasn't easy to shake off over the summer.

Alex Gough finished fourth among the women, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith were fourth in men's doubles and along with Sam Edney, they all finished fourth in the new team relay event in Sochi, Russia.

They take little solace in what was by far Canada's best performance in Olympic luge.

"They suffer the Olympic hangover, which was hard and heavy," Staudinger said Wednesday after a training session. "It has to do probably having to deal with the disappointment over the summer and waking up in reality because life goes on.

"The disappointment was big for not winning that medal. That still catches up on us."

World Cup luge returns to Calgary's Canada Olympic Park on Friday and Saturday after a three-year hiatus. The women and doubles race is Friday, followed by the men's event and a new sprint race Saturday.

Gough won women's gold the last time it was in Calgary in 2011.

She will compete Friday against international competition for the first time since Sochi. The 27-year-old Calgarian skipped the first two World Cup races of this season to concentrate on first-year engineering studies at the University of Calgary.

Canada's most decorated athlete in the sport with a pair of world championship medals and 17 career World Cup medals wrote exams this week while preparing for her first race of the winter.

"I'm going to go out there and slide the best I can and see what happens," Gough said. "It's always tough when you come in partway through the season or even the first race of the season, which is usually in Austria, I have no idea where I'll sit.

"It makes it kind of unnerving in some ways, but it's good in some ways. I have no idea where I should sit so all I can do is focus on myself and get the best out of it that I can."

Gough says she'll take a lighter course load next semester, which will allow her to compete in the remaining World Cups and world championship.

Calgary's Kim McRae, who finished fifth behind Gough in Sochi, is also one to watch in Calgary. The 22-year-old opened the season with a pair of top-10 results in Innsbruck, Austria, and was 11th in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Edney will also compete in an international men's race for the first time since Sochi. The three-time Olympian has been dealing with a sports hernia that kept him out of the first two races.

The 30-year-old Calgarian hopes he and his teammates have mentally cleared their post-Olympic hurdles to perform well at home.

"I almost see it as waves amongst the team. There are moments where we feel that energy of 'We were so close. Let's keep it going,' and then there are those days where it's like 'Shoot, we were that close,' and it brings you down," Edney explained.

"It's a weird feeling. Seeing them now after some races, it's like that energy is back there. I feel like the team is pretty energized right now."

But Calgary's Snith and Walker, from nearby Cochrane, Alta., are not happy with the start to their season. They crashed in their season-opener in Innsbruck and were ninth last week in Lake Placid.

"Both of us can agree we're not sliding anywhere near our capability," Snith said.

Added Walker: "Our expectations are definitely a lot higher. That's what makes it all the more frustrating not sliding that well."

All this adds up to some frustration for Staudinger, a German who has coached the Canadian team since 2007.

He doesn't like tempering his expectations for the home race of this World Cup season, given the sliding talent Canada now has.

"For Sam and Alex, it's more an orientation race. I wouldn't expect too much right now," Staudinger said. "I feel like we're not really in a position where we need to be athletically.

"I don't like my situation. I don't like the position we're in. I watched the Germans and for them, they're back to normal performance I don't see any reason why we're different because we are not.

"We still have a bit of catching up to do and that has to do with the Olympic hangover. When you go out drinking, it hurts."

The relay was an Olympic event for the first time in Sochi. The Canadians welcomed its arrival because they say it is exciting to race.

They're underwhelmed by the introduction of the sprint race, which will be run in Calgary instead of a relay, to the World Cup circuit.

The sprint is the same as a regular race except the clock starts after the first turn and the fastest to the finish wins. The top 15 in each of the other three World Cup races qualify to race a sprint.

"People keep asking me what the sprint race is," Walker said. "It's a normal run like we would do in the race with the only difference the start line is the first curve and they tell you your speed going down.

"I understand the idea of trying to put in a new event like in downhill skiing with super-G. This one's just not a winner. They definitely found a winner with the relay.

"It's fun, exciting and people like watching it. It's got great numbers on viewership. I think we should do one every week."

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