It’s a gloriously sunny mid-January morning in at the Whistler Sliding Centre and two dudes from the track maintenance crew are shoveling a few inches of fresh powder off the steep uphill section of track where sliders dump speed after rocketing over the finish line.
The track workers shovel cheerfully, but with sunshine and blue skies glowing, and 51 centimetres of fresh powder in the last 48 hours, their eyes inevitably drift up to Whistler and Blackcomb mountains towering above. No one says “We wish we were up there” but that’s only because it goes without saying.
Funnily enough, with the 2013 FIL World Luge Championships set to arrive in Whistler this week, some of Canada’s top World Cup luge athletes feel the exact same way.
“Whistler has one of the nicest tracks in the world right now,” says veteran Canadian luge star Sam Edney, “but when we race here you are always looking up to the mountains and whether it’s dumping snow or bluebird I’m always wondering how good it is up there. I’m avid skier but I also love walking through the Village or having a pint on the Longhorn patio. This is such a great venue for a race. We are here on business but it feels like a vacation.”
Teammate Alex Gough is also a big skier. In fact, it was a ski vacation with Edney’s family that kicked off Gough’s luge career. “My mom heard from Sam’s mom what he was doing and that he was traveling and competing,” Gough explains, “and suggested I go out to the COP (Calgary Olympic Park) and give it a try. I enjoyed it so I signed up and it’s been 12 years.”
Left: Sam Edney. Centre: Whistler Skiing. Right: Alex Gough.
Last year Gough won a World Cup gold medal on that same Calgary Olympic Park track, essentially proving the “build it and they will come” philosophy on nurturing future Canadian Olympians.
“Having two tracks in Canada is huge for our sport and all the sliding sports,” Says Sam Edney, also a Calgary native who’s had some of his best results on Canadian luge courses. “Our whole National Team right now is a product of that track in Calgary and now to double the number of tracks we immediately double our potential for future athletes. Every kid loves tobogganing and luge is like the professional toboggan circuit.”
And local youth are getting into it. “Right now we have 18 BC athletes enrolled,” says Matt McMurray, luge talent development coach of the Canadian Sport Institute and coach of the BC Provincial team. “After the 2010 games we have seen an increase of steady growth and we are working with kids aged 8-18 to get some BC athletes on the National Team and the podium.”
The youngest kids will hit the Whistler Sliding Centre 1-3 times a week but Matt says that the 14-16 year-olds on the talent development team will slide 6 days a week all winter and do 4 days a week at the gym in the summer.
“Having the World Championships here is definitely a great thing for young athletes,” McMurray says. “They get to see the world’s best and all the Olympians that inspired them to join the sport. If a Canadian athlete can win or podium, to achieve that on home soil would be a huge inspiration to every one of the athletes in our program.”
And a cheering crowd is only going help. Come support all the World Championships luge athletes and check out the fastest show on ice. Opening ceremonies kicks off Wednesday January 30, 2012, at 6:45 PM with a parade of athletes through Whistler Village to the Village Square. Joyful pop-rockers The Boom Booms will follow that up with a free concert starting around 7:30.