One year out from the 2014 Winter Olympics, Canada's chances to bring back medals from Sochi in luge were looking pretty good.
And now, based on the results from this past weekend's World Cup races at the Whistler Sliding Centre, those chances are looking even better.
The Canadian luge team put together a two-medal weekend on home ice Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7, with Alex Gough capturing a silver medal in Saturday afternoon's women's race, then helping the host nation to another silver-medal finish in the evening's team relay.
Germany won all four of the weekend's races, as expected. But by putting a sled in the top six of every event, Canada showed that it's solidly the No. 2 nation in the sport's power rankings just two months out from the Olympics.
Not bad for a country that's never been on the luge podium at the Games before.
"We're behind the Germans; we're not happy about that at all," said veteran team member Sam Edney after wrapping up the relay. "But I think we're slowly closing the gap."
When Whistler hosted the world championships last winter, Germany took home eight of a possible 10 medals, while Canada — with a relay silver and Gough's individual bronze — was the only other country to score multiple podium finishes.
But the powerhouse Germans were limited to six medals in Whistler this past weekend. Meanwhile, Gough improved her placing by one spot, and Germany's margin of victory over the Canadians in Saturday's relay was a little less comfortable compared to the 2013 worlds.
Gough, Edney and doubles tandem Tristan Walker and Justin Snith's relay time of two minutes, 4.202 seconds left Canada just more than four-tenths behind Germany, while Austria grabbed the bronze medal.
The result was also a bit of a bounce-back performance for the Canadians, who were disqualified the previous week in Winterberg, Germany, when Walker and Snith left the start too early.
"With the false start we had last week, that definitely rattled us a little bit, but this week was really good," said Walker, who slides the relay's final leg with Snith. "We still had really good reaction times."
Including last year's world championships, Canada has now picked up a medal in six of the last 10 relay events, one of them being a bronze in Sochi at the end of last season.
"We all said at the finish that we're pretty happy to show that we're still on the podium," said Edney. "We know it — if we put down three consistent runs, then we're competitive."
Gough's individual result Saturday was the 11th World Cup podium of her career, but just the first time she's taken silver. The 26-year-old, who had two wins and eight third-place finishes coming in, clocked a two-run time that was 0.133 seconds back of winner Natalie Geisenberger.
"I felt like I pulled really good starts," said Gough, who had the fastest takeoff times on both runs. "My second run wasn't as great as I wanted it to be, I had a few little skids here and there and it could have been a little bit better... but I had two good, consistent runs and I had the performance I wanted."
Germany's Anke Wischnewski took the bronze medal. Canada's Kim McRae finished 11th, Arianne Jones placed 14th and Jordan Smith was 17th.
Geisenberger has now won all four women's events this season — taking the victory on Saturday despite sliding while sick — and Gough said it takes a near-perfect race to challenge the reigning world champ these days.
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