SPORTS

Canada's lugers claim trio of World Cup medals on their home track

12/12/2014 07:12 EST | Updated 02/11/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Canada made home-track advantage count with a triple-medal performance in World Cup luge.

The host country won silver and bronze in women's singles as well as bronze in men's doubles Friday at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park.

Calgary's Alex Gough finished second and Arianne Jones third behind reigning Olympic champion Natalie Geisenberger of Germany, who won for a fourth time in as many races to start the season.

Canada's men's doubles team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith were third behind a pair of German sleds.

Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken also improved to 4-0 to top the World Cup doubles standings. Their countrymen Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, who are also the reigning Olympic and world champions, placed second.

After getting shut out of the medals in their first two World Cups on the road this season, it was a banner homecoming for Canada.

"It's such a fantastic, unbelievable day for us," Gough said. "It just reinforces this program is going in the right direction and we have everything we need to be competitive in this sport."

The 27-year-old skipped the first two World Cups this season to remain in Calgary and concentrate on her first-year engineering studies at the University of Calgary.

So Canada's most decorated luger earned her 18th career World Cup medal in her first race this season.

"It's just positive reinforcement that making a choice to go back to school and taking a bit of time away was the right decision for me," Gough said.

"I didn't lose anything and I'm as competitive as I was when I left the season last year and I look forward to going back to competing."

Men's singles and a new sprint event for men, women and doubles will run Saturday.

Canada's depth of talent in women's luge continues to deepen with four in the top 10 on Friday.

Jones's medal was the first of her career. Calgary's Kim McRae was seventh and Jordan Smith ninth.

World Cup luge returned to Calgary after a three-year hiatus.

Gough made history in 2011 when she became the first Canadian to win World Cup gold at COP. Prior to that, the only Canadian medallist there was Tyler Seitz's bronze in 2002.

So the triple-medal day was significant in Canadian luge history. Head coach Wolfgang Staudinger had spoken earlier in the week of his team's "Olympic hangover."

Canada finished fourth three times in Sochi, Russia, in February, to fall just short multiple times of the country's first Olympic medal in luge.

Gough was fourth among the women, Walker and Snith were fourth in doubles and along with Sam Edney, they all finished fourth in the new team relay. Staudinger saw a cloud of Sochi still hovering over his team to start this season.

"We had lots of meeting, many meetings where I said 'guys, wake up. The Olympics are over. Keep working because this is not a self-running business,'" Staudinger said. "This week they finally started working and waking up and I am very happy with the result.

"This is a great day today and I'm very pleased with the results, but I also know once you hit Europe this will probably be a little tougher again. Looking at this competition, a lot of people made mistakes. We used our advantage and maximized it."

The petite, five-foot-four Jones is at a disadvantage in a gravity sport. The 24-year-old has been in a battle to hold onto Canada's third female spot on the World Cup team.

Sitting fourth after her first run, Jones took advantage of a mistake by Olympic silver medallist Tatjana Huefner of Germany and claimed bronze in front of friends and family.

"I've had tons of runs here. I know how to drive these lines," Jones said. "I just tried to push it, push my position to the furthest I could and go out of my comfort zone a little bit.

"I know in my comfort zone I can come in that top-10 range so I said 'hey, let's see what I can do pushing my comfort zone today' and this is a pretty good result from that."

Geisenberger continued to dominate women's luge posting a two-run time of 1:33.860. Gough was .058 behind and Jones .414 behind.

"In general, it's difficult to beat Alex Gough, but it's very difficult to beat Alex Gough in Calgary," Geisenberger said.

Walker and Snith's first World Cup medal this season felt even more sweet because of whom they beat to get it.

The Canadians edged Latvian brothers Andris and Juris Sics for third in 1:28.014 in what was a reversal of Olympic men's doubles. Eggert and Benecken posted a two-run time of one minute 27.806 seconds ahead of their teammates Wendl and Arlt in 1:27.845.

The Latvians were third in Sochi to hold Walker and Snith off the podium by five hundredths of a second.

"There might be a little bit of extra satisfaction there," Snith said Friday.

Calgary's Snith and Walker, from nearby Cochrane, Alta., had a breakout season in 2013-14 with their first World Cup medal — a silver in Whistler, B.C., just over a year ago.

The 23-year-olds have also been Canada's anchor leg in the relay. Canada won relay silver at the 2013 world championship and have collected several World Cup medals.

Walker and Snith were not at all pleased with their performances in the first two events this season. They crashed in the season-opener and were ninth last week in Lake Placid, N.Y.

So Snith called their result Friday at Canada Olympic Park "a relief."

"This was more of what I expected from the both of us rather than the first two World Cups where we, for our expectations, greatly underperformed," he said.

The Canadians finished in the medals despite a pair of start times that were outside the top 10. They made up speed with their driving and the right equipment set-up.

"We were kind of hoping coming from last season with a first podium ever and being so close at the Olympics that we would be up there pushing for medals," Walker said.

"This just proves its possible for us to do it and really nice to turn around that slow start of the season."

WinSport Canada, which operates Canada Olympic Park, began offering $5,000 bonuses in 2012 to Canadian athletes who finish among the top three at the venue in any World Cup sport.

So Gough, Jones, Walker and Snith all qualified for the Sarah Burke Award given in memory of the freestyle skier who died of injuries from a training accident.

By finishing in the top 15 sleds in their respective events, the Canadians also qualified to race a new sprint event Saturday. The sprint is the same as a regular race except the clock starts after the first turn and the fastest to the finish wins.

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