Whistler's Reid Watts helps Canada to relay medal in luge 

Geisenberger wins women's race

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - Canada's relay team celebrates its third-place finish at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Dec. 1.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • Canada's relay team celebrates its third-place finish at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Dec. 1.

Two of Canada's up-and-coming lugers helped secure a third-place finish in the relay event at the Viessmann Luge World Cup on Dec. 1.

Coming off of up-and-down individual performances earlier in the festival, Whistler's Reid Watts and Calgary's Kyla Graham combined with doubles veterans Tristan Walker and Justin Snith to finish 0.209 seconds back of the Russian team. The Germans took second.

The relay was the first for both Watts and Graham at the World Cup level, and resulted in their first-ever medals on tour.

"This is awesome, especially after yesterday (the singles event in which he placed 22nd). That was an up-and-down race, for sure," Watts said. "That was a disaster, to be completely honest, but I just had a good night, regrouped, and I was really happy with the way things went."

After a strong first run in Friday night's singles race left him in striking distance of a career-best result, Watts struggled on his second run to finish back in the pack. To medal at home provided a measure of redemption for the 19-year-old.

"Today, I knew that if I just lowered the expectations in my head and just focused on the basics, that's what would get me down the hill well. I just had fun with it. We had a good team of Kyla, Tristan and Justin and everything just worked out well," he said.

For Graham, it was just her second World Cup race after she debuted at Igls, Austria last week. She was thrilled to have made it on the podium so soon, especially in an event that naturally has a little extra pressure.

"It's pretty incredible to have a medal from that," she said. "You want to do well for your teammates and yourselves. I just went out there and chilled out on the track. I had a pretty good run."

Like Watts, she was glad to have an opportunity to leave Whistler and head to next weekend's Calgary World Cup on a high note after her singles event earlier in the morning, where she took 18th.

"I could have been happier but I'm still not upset. My first run, I had a bit of a skid in (Corner) 12 as well as 16, which brings down your time. But my second run was one of the best I had all week, so I was really happy with that," she said.

Of the four World Cup races this weekend, the relay was the only one in which the existing track record did not fall, as the Russians' winning time of two minutes, 4.124 seconds (2:04.124) was slightly slower than the Germans' 2:03.826 set in 2013.

Geisenberger claims win in women's singles

Germany's Natalie Geisenberger took a rare second-place finish behind Canadian star Alex Gough the last time she competed on the Viessmann Luge World Cup tour at Whistler Sliding Centre in 2016.

But in a return engagement on Dec. 1, the German legend returned to the top spot, putting up the top time in both runs-setting new track records in the process.

Geisenberger put up a two-run time of 1:16.904 as she got past fellow German Julia Taubitz by 0.291 seconds and American Emily Sweeney by 0.417 seconds. The race was Sweeney's first since a crash at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea in February.

On a bright, sunny day, Geisenberger dominated all the way through the track, putting up the second-best start in both runs and then leading from that point on.

"It was a great day for me. I had two great starts, two great runs. It's so much fun to slide in this weather in Whistler here, it's almost perfect," she said.

The track was once again running fast, as 26 of the 56 total runs were quicker than Gough's previous top run of 38.796. Geisenberger's new mark raised the bar to 38.394 seconds.

"Looking at the time after the second run, I was like, 'Oh wow, that was really fast!'" she said. "These were perfect conditions for good sliding."

With vastly different conditions each time, Geisenberger said it's impossible to compare her run from two years ago to what she accomplished this time around.

"I don't think you really can compare the two races, because it's always different conditions," she said. "We will see what happens in the future. Maybe it's getting a little bit faster in the next few years."

Graham was the top Canadian, finishing 18th, while Makena Hodgson was 19th, Carolyn Maxwell was 21st and Brooke Apshkrum was 24th. Local Veronica Ravenna, who represents Argentina, ended up in 25th.

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