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Whistler Sliding Centre hosts landmark World Cup luge race

Devin Wardrope and Cole Zajanski led all Canadians with fourth-place result; Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless sixth in milestone women’s doubles race
Devin Wardrope (left) and Cole Zajanski had the best time of all Canadians with a career-best fourth-place result in men’s doubles at this month’s FIL World Cup stop in Whistler.

For 12 years, the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC) has been the backdrop of world-class luge races featuring top athletes from around the globe, and the latest stop on the FIL World Cup circuit was no exception. One hundred competitors from 20 nations tore up Whistler’s iconic track on Dec. 9 and 10 in five events: men’s and women’s singles, men’s doubles, the always-exciting team relay and—for the first time ever—women’s doubles. 

Devin Wardrope and Cole Zajanski paced Team Canada with a career-best fourth-place result in men’s doubles. The young Calgarians went head-to-head with titans of their sport, like defending Olympic champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt and incumbent Olympic silver medallists Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken (all from Germany). Wardrope and Zajanski’s two-run time of 1:16.763 left them just 0.023 seconds off the podium. 

New blood

Fourth place is often unsatisfying, but Wardrope and Zajanski are proud of how they acquitted themselves on a track they know all too well. 

“It’s amazing. [This result] says we are in a good spot and being the first World Cup of the year, I couldn’t be happier,” said the 20-year-old Wardrope. “And to be in front of friends and family on a home track, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

The pair invested a lot of time in sliding on the WSC track, “so it is just nice to have it finally pay off,” added Zajanski, 21. “There’s a few lines in the track that other people were having difficulties with, and we had it nailed from top to bottom.” 

Eggert and Benecken bested their German teammates Wendl and Arlt, standing atop the podium with a time of 1:16.554. The incumbent Olympic gold medallists settled for silver in 1:16.605, and Austrian duo Juri Gatt and Ricardo Schopf took bronze in 1:16.740.

Wardrope and Zajanski’s performance represents a true changing of the guard, as Canadian luge stalwarts Tristan Walker and Justin Snith slid into retirement by forerunning the men’s doubles race on Saturday. Walker and Snith are known for helping Team Canada win its landmark mixed team relay silver at PyeongChang 2018, just the second Olympic medal that Canadian lugers have ever achieved. 

“They have been great mentors for us when we were coming up, first starting doubles. They were the ones we could base stuff off and give us advice,” said Wardrope. “They are definitely going to be on speed dial [throughout our career].”

Wardrope and Zajanski, who were 13th in their first World Cup start in Altenberg, Germany two years ago, and eighth at a World Cup on Beijing’s Olympic track last season, gave Walker and Snith all they could handle in earning the lone Canadian doubles spot at the 2022 Olympics.

“It’s time to hand things over to the young guys. It feels so nice that we were able to do one last season with those boys,” said Walker after his farewell run. “They have really impressed us, and there were a couple of times last year we thought it may have been them doing the Olympic race for Canada [this year]. 

“We are super proud of them, and I feel like we are leaving the program in good hands with them.”

New achievements

Meanwhile, Whistlerites Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless placed sixth in just the second women’s doubles race in FIL World Cup history. Three years after becoming the first female athletes to compete in doubles at the senior level (against men), they are now the first to represent Canada in women’s doubles. 

“We were hoping for a podium finish today, but we laid down the two best runs we had, and we are coming away from this very happy,” said Nash, who finished in a time of 1:18.526 with her longtime friend. 

The Italian team of Andrea Votter and Marion Oberhofer (1:17.912) won the second women’s doubles World Cup gold ever awarded. Austrian pair Selina Egle and Lara Kipp seized silver (1:17.953), while Germany’s Jessica Degenhardt and Cheyenne Rosenthal raced to bronze (1:17.968).

Nash and Corless plan to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of their lofty aspirations over the next four years, but they also know that the true victory is female athletes getting their own doubles event at last.

“It’s really inspiring. Women’s doubles have already inspired so many new athletes to join and [it] has brought a lot of attention to luge as well,” said Corless. “I’m really hoping this is going to help develop the sport in the next quadrennial.” 

Trinity Ellis was the top Canadian in women’s singles, finishing 13th in a combined time of 1:17:656. The Pemberton native had her fastest start of the week with steady driving down the WSC track for a solid start to the new campaign.

“Both runs were pretty good,” said Ellis, 20. “I’m happy with them, and that is what my goal was today. It feels so great to be back racing at home. It has been so long since we were last here.

“There [were] so many people here watching that had never gotten to see me slide before, so that’s pretty exciting.”

Two-time Olympic medallist Madeline Egle pulled off the improbable: defeat Germany in a sliding event. The Austrian grabbed gold by clocking in at 1:17:137, forcing German contender Julia Taubitz into the silver medal spot at 1:17:160. Another German, Merle Frabel, won bronze in 1:17.182. 

Three other Canadian women dropped into the track for singles. 22-year-old Carolyn Maxwell of Calgary, Alta. placed 15th (1:17.682), while Nash was right behind her in 16th (1:17:728) and Corless finished 18th (1:17.817).

With two-time Whistler Olympian Reid Watts taking a break from luge, Canada had no horse in the men’s singles race and was also unable to field a relay team.