They'll be a huge part of Canada's medal hopes in luge at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, and that's a distinction that Tristan Walker and Justin Snith have earned quietly.
The national team's doubles duo has stood on multiple world championship podiums, plus several more in World Cup competition, with relay teammates Alex Gough and Sam Edney.
While Gough and Edney have grabbed much of the attention for posting some of Canada's best-ever results in singles racing, the success Walker and Snith have achieved has seemingly slipped under the radar.
Though the pair raced to 15th place in Whistler during the 2010 Games, they were teenagers at the time who were mostly there for the experience. As they enter their seventh full season together, they'll be preparing for an Olympics at which they'll be medal contenders in both relay and doubles.
Given the way the duo has grown since they first partnered up as juniors in 2007, that shouldn't come as a big surprise.
"When you look at the results, they kind of speak for themselves," Walker said after a training session at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Friday, Oct. 11.
"Every year has been our best year so far."
Last winter was no exception, as Walker and Snith ended the year with three consecutive fourth-place finishes — one coming at the world championships in Whistler and another during the Olympic test event at Sochi's new track.
Now, the duo is working hard to take that next step that will put them on the podium.
"That's all you can do at this point," said Snith. "It's not a given and they're not handing out freebies. It is the Olympics, you have to work for it.
"If we keep going (and) keep improving, the results will eventually come."
Walker and Snith have had an excellent mentor overseeing their development in Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger, himself a bronze medallist in doubles for West Germany at the 1988 Olympics. Staudinger has been impressed with the continual growth of his lone doubles team.
"They've come a long way," said Staudinger. "They basically came here as little boys, young teenagers. They were very young when they joined us before 2010 and went into their first Olympics. Now, they've matured to young adults and young men, and that reflects in their performance."
With a grin, Staudinger will tell you that Walker, 22, and Snith, 21, each have very different personalities that help them find a balance — the chipper and outgoing Walker occupying the front of the sled; the more reserved and methodical Snith at the back. Longtime buddies away from the track, Walker agreed that their friendship has had a hand in their success.
"It works with us," said Walker. "I know there are a lot of doubles teams around the world that don't get along at all. I think us being pretty close friends definitely helps our sliding."
While Walker and Snith have gradually established themselves as one of the world's top doubles teams, their achievements with the relay team were instant. Their first-ever World Cup relay start with Edney and Gough saw the team find the podium at Igls, Austria, and the squad has been in the mix at every race since.
The relay will be an Olympic event for the first time in Sochi. While luge powers such as Germany, Italy and Austria will be among the podium contenders, the Canadian crew has inserted itself into the mix over the past few seasons.
"I never like to tell anyone we have a really good chance of winning a medal because that puts pressure on us," said Walker. "But since we started the configuration of the Gough-Edney-Walker-Snith relay team, we have won a medal at every world championships we've competed in. We can look at that track record with confidence."
Walker and Snith can also go to Sochi knowing they'll be at a track that suits their style well. Though their starts are a relative weakness, their driving ability is what keeps them in contention from week to week. The Sliding Center Sanki that will host the Olympic races is now the longest in the world, which provides the duo lots of opportunity to make up for time lost off the start.
"We consistently pick up time down the track, and the longer the track is, the better, generally, for us," said Snith.
In the coming months, the pair will have to manage the expectations that come along with being a medal contender without thinking too far ahead.
"(The Olympics will be) a highlight and something to work towards through the entire season, but it can't be your main focus week-to-week," said Snith. "If you look too far forward, you're going to get ahead of yourself and that will be detrimental to sliding."
National team athletes will race the Canadian Luge Championships at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Sunday, Oct. 20 beginning at 10 a.m.
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