Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Canada's top-five luge results matter

By on Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Kim McRae, left, and Alex Gough watch from the leader's box after finishing their fourth and final runs of the Olympic women's luge race on Tuesday. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
  • Photo courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee
  • Kim McRae, left, and Alex Gough watch from the leader's box after finishing their fourth and final runs of the Olympic women's luge race on Tuesday.

Canadians Alex Gough and Kim McRae finished fourth and fifth, respectively, to wrap up women’s luge competition at the Sanki Sliding Center on Tuesday, while teammate Arianne Jones slid into 13th spot.

I wrote earlier this week about why Gough was likely to contend for a medal, and ultimately she came up one spot short after four runs. She ended up more than four tenths of a second behind bronze medallist Erin Hamlin of the U.S., which isn’t super close by luge standards.

But really, it came down to just one mistake on Gough’s first run, when she hit the wall on one of the track’s uphill sections, and the 26-year-old was chasing the rest of the way.

“That was it there and it was going to be a fight to try and claw my way back from then on in,” Gough told the Canadian Press. “My second run was OK, my two runs today were great but I just didn’t put myself in a great position after the first run.

“I had one mistake and that was it.”

Gough reportedly fought back tears when meeting with the press, and while fourth place stings right now for the two-time world championship medallist in singles competition, she has every reason to be proud.

Both Gough and McRae surpassed the previous best by a Canadian in Olympic luge competition, which was Sam Edney’s seventh-place result in the men’s race at Whistler in 2010. All three of the athletes ahead of them on the podium — winner Natalie Geisenberger and runner-up Tatjana Hüfner of Germany, and bronze medallist Erin Hamlin of the U.S. — all have world championship titles to their credit.

For Canada to have two top-five finishes in the race when it had never had a single result that good at the Games before is significant, and another example of the strides the team has made since 2010 under head coach Wolfgang Staudinger.

The Canadian program as a whole is in great shape, with a number of prospects like Pemberton’s Jenna Spencer coming up within the system, and Tuesday’s bittersweet finishes will give the country’s future Olympic and World Cup lugers something to strive for.

And there’s still a chance for Gough to make her mark in Sochi in the team relay, a new Olympic event running Thursday that Canada has a good chance to medal in. Tristan Walker and Justin Snith, who race their doubles event Wednesday, will join her and Edney on the Canadian team.

She’ll have to get over the disappointment of missing a medal in her solo race quickly, but Gough will certainly head into Thursday hungry for that first-ever Canadian luge medal that many have expected will come at these Games. 

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