Unlike most of the other winter events where nationals take place at the end of the season, the sliding sports — luge, bobsleigh and skeleton — start early in Canada and use the nationals as a way to test athletes before the start of the World Cup season. This past weekend the Whistler Sliding Centre provided the venue for Canada's luge athletes to battle for national titles, and sew up spots with national and development teams.
In the women's race, Calgary's Alex Gough successfully defended her national title while winning her sixth Canadian Championship.
Last season she became the first Canadian luge athlete to win a World Cup on home soil in Calgary, while the previous season she was the first Canadian woman to finish on a World Cup podium and win a World Cup race — the German team had previously won every event going back 105 races and 13 years.
"I had a shaky start to the week sorting out my equipment, but the race went really well," said Gough. "I really felt good ... over the last couple of days. I'm really looking forward to getting overseas and into an international setting to see how things stack up against the best women."Gough's time after two runs was 1:38.44, edging teammate Arianne Jones (1:39.29) by almost a second. Kim McRae of Calgary was a very close third in 1:39.31.
On the men's side, Sam Edney also defended the men's national title with his time of 1:37.83, followed by 17-year-old Mitchell Malyk in 1:38.72 and John Fennell in 1:39.95.
The athletes will compete in their first World Cup on Nov. 24-25 at Igls, Austria and will spend the next few months in Europe before returning to Whistler for the 2013 World Championships on Feb. 1-2.
Bobsleigh, skeleton athletes face off
While the national luge athletes were facing off in Whistler, the top bobsleigh and skeleton athletes were competing at the Canadian Championships in Calgary.
Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries, working with rookie brakewoman Chelsea Valouis, won the women's event with a two-run time of 1:56:53.
"We were close to pushing a start record for this track so it was a really good day for us," said Humphries, pocketing her fourth national title. There was lots of snow in the first run and then the track sped up. I know Chelsea was a little nervous. This was the 15th or 16th time she has been down a bobsleigh track so it was great to see her do well. We have lots of work ahead of us but we are excited for the season."
Jenny Ciochetti of Edmonton teamed up with Kate O'Brien to place second in 1:57.87, while Rosalyn Nykolichuk and Chelsey Kaprenko placed third in 2:00:45.
Chris Spring, in his first race since a crash in Germany last season that put three members of his four-man team in the hospital, snapped back in two-man bobsleigh to win his first Canadian title with Adam Rosencke in 1:53.94.
"This was the start I was planning for, coming back to the sport after my injury," he said. "It was bittersweet with Team Rush not in the race, but Justin Kripps and his team have been keeping me honest since day one this year." Kripps and brakeman Nick Carrier picked up the silver medal in 1:54:58. Third place went to Chris Korol and Ben Klepacki.
Olympic medallist Lyndon Rush did not compete in Calgary.
In skeleton, Sarah Reid claimed her first national title while Melissa Hollingsworth sat on the sidelines. Cassie Hawrysh and Lanette Prediger were second and third. The men's event went to Eric Neilson, followed by Dan Greszczyszyn and John Fairbairn. Olympic champion Jon Montgomery did not compete.
Canada's bobsleigh and skeleton athletes will be in Whistler on Nov. 19 for the IBSF World Cup event.