A spectator's guide to the Luge Worlds 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE, TOURISM WHISTLER - FAST TRACK Despite the lower start gates, athletes are expected to break 140km/h this weekend as the Whistler Sliding Centre hosts the luge World Championships.
  • photo by mike crane, tourism whistler
  • FAST TRACK Despite the lower start gates, athletes are expected to break 140km/h this weekend as the Whistler Sliding Centre hosts the luge World Championships.

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How are the Canadians doing?

Extremely well. Historically, luge has been a weak sport for Canada, but Calgary's Alex Gough broke through in the 2011 season as the first Canadian to win a World Cup medal, then later as the first non-German to win a race since 1997. She was also the first Canadian to medal at a world championship race — a feat she's now accomplished twice with bronze medals in 2011 and 2012. She's been Canada's best luger this season as well, kicking things off with bronze medals in her first two events. She has two fourth place finishes to her credit and was in the top six in two other events. She now ranks fifth overall on the tour.

The Germans are still the favourites and have the top three athletes in the women's rankings with Natalie Geisenberger first, Anke Wischnewski second and Tatjana Hufner third.

While Gough is usually Canada's top medal hope, her teammates are improving from week to week and finding their way into the top 10. In doubles, Justin Snith and Tristan Walker have finished sixth twice this year.

In women's luge, Arianne Jones has broken the top 10 several times while newcomer Kimberley McRae has posted her own personal best results and also cracked the top 10. Dayna Clay joined the team late in the season but has finished in the top 15.

In men's luge, veteran Sam Edney has yet to win an individual podium but has already tied his career-best sixth place result this season.

But while Canadians are improving individually, collectively they shine in the team relay. The team has two silver medals so far this season, with Gough racing first, Edney second and Walker and Snith starting last. They missed one event with Walker suffering a mild concussion in a training accident, but were back racing two weeks ago.

They have a solid chance of winning a medal at home this weekend in the new team discipline, which will be part of the Olympics in 2014.

In relay, athletes have to hit a target hung over the course at the finish line as they pass through, which in turn allows the next team member to start. It's a one-run format, and rankings are based on combined time.

What's the deal with luge? How hard could it be?

It takes a decade to develop a luge athlete, and athletes are typically recruited around the age of 10. Most talent identification camps won't talk to athletes once they're 15 or older because it's too late to start, and so older athletes who get into the sliding sports late tend to gravitate to bobsleigh and skeleton.

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