The Germans are still No. 1, but Canada looked like the next nation to beat during the FIL Luge World Championships.
As doubles duo Tristan Walker and Justin Snith crossed the finish line for a silver medal in team relay to wrap up the two-day world championships on Saturday (Feb. 2), they were greeted by Canadian teammates Alex Gough and Sam Edney, as well as the loudest crowd the Whistler Sliding Centre has seen since the Olympics.
It was an electrifying moment and a near-perfect cap to the host nation’s most successful world championships ever.
Gough matched her bronze-medal finish from 2011 in the women’s race earlier Saturday, while Edney, Walker and Snith set new Canadian bests in men’s singles and doubles racing at the event with top-five finishes on Day 1.
“It was a weekend of close, close results,” Edney said after capturing silver with the team. “We had a successful Saturday and Alex gave the other three of us the encouragement that we deserved to be on the podium. It just feels really good to be on there in front of this home crowd.”
Germany dominated the event as expected, taking home eight of a possible 10 medals and winning gold in all four races. Canada was the only other country to win multiple medals over the two days.
“I’m extremely proud today because this is something I didn’t expect,” said Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger. “Having two medals walking away from worlds has never happened in Canada … so this is fantastic.”
In fact, Canada had just two world championship medals all-time heading into the weekend, and nothing higher than a bronze.
In the relay, the Canadians recorded a total time of two minutes 4.472 seconds to finish behind the Germans. Germany clocked in with 2:03.826 to take gold, its lineup consisting of the world champions crowned in the individual disciplines throughout the weekend in Whistler — Felix Loch, Natalie Geisenberger and doubles duo Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Latvia placed third.
Gough’s performance in the women’s singles race led a strong showing from the Canadian team, as three from the national team made it into the top 10. Calgary residents Kim McRae and Arianne Jones were seventh and eighth, respectively, and fellow Canadian Jordan Smith finished 19th.
“It’s tough to be that close to the silver medal and not be there, but I’m still really happy with my performance,” said Gough, who was just 12 thousandths of a second out of the runner-up spot.
“I felt like I had really good, consistent runs, and I felt like I slid as well as I have all week, so I have to be happy with that.”
Canadian fans at the finish dock chanted Gough’s name as she began her second run, then erupted in celebration when her time showed she’d finish on the podium.
“I could hear some of the cowbells going,” said Gough. “They were definitely a great crowd and they were super loud and supportive.”
Germany’s Geisenberger won her first world championship title and teammate Tatjana Hüfner, the Olympic and two-time defending world champ, finished second.
“It’s perfect. It’s a big dream to get a gold medal at the world championships and the dream is true now,” said a smiling Geisenberger, who said her starts were “near-perfect” on the track’s new entry ramp.
Canadian men make history
Until Walker and Snith used two personal-best start times to finish fourth in Friday’s (Feb. 1) doubles race, Mike Moffat and Grant Albrecht’s sixth-place finish in Calgary 12 years ago was the best by a Canadian duo in a world championship race.
The 21-year-olds were just eight hundredths of a second out of the bronze-medal position.
“I’m really happy with the result,” said Walker. “Even with the mistakes we made on the first run, there’s nothing we could have done more to push for that next spot. I think we slid pretty much as well as we could slide today.”
Wendl and Arlt won their first world title, while Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken placed second to make it a one-two finish for Germany. Austria’s Andreas and Wolfgang Linger earned bronze.
Wendl and Arlt were the World Cup leaders coming in, having won the season’s first five races, but wanted to erase the disappointment of last year world championships in Altenberg, Germany, where they missed the podium by just seven-thousandths of a second.
“Last year in Altenberg, we were fourth place on our home track, so we are really happy that it (went) so good this weekend,” said Wendl.
Edney’s seventh-place finish in Altenberg last year was Canada’s previous best men’s finish at worlds, but the 28-year-old finished fifth on Friday after a spectacular second run that was almost good enough for the podium.
“This is my home track and I feel like I know it better than I know myself sometimes,” said Edney. “My sliding was really on it today.”
Edney was agonizingly close to breaking up Germany’s sweep of the podium, finishing only two-hundredths of a second behind third place.
“It feels really good to be that close to those guys,” said Edney. “To be right in there with the Germans, I knew that’s what I needed to do — pull some good starts to be there — and that’s kind of what I need to now focus on for the next year leading up to the (Olympic) Games.”
Olympic and defending world champ Loch won gold as German athletes captured the top four spots overall. Andi Langenhan finished second and Johannes Ludwig was third.
“(I had) two good runs … and it’s great (for us) to take the first four places,” said Loch.
Canadians John Fennell and Mitchel Malyk finished 24th and 25th, respectively.
There are still two World Cup races remaining this season, including the Olympic test event in Sochi at the end of February. But over the next year leading up to the Games, the Canadians will be focused on closing the gap on their German rivals. Team relay will be a medal event at the Games for the first time in 2014, so it’s looking very possible Canada could earn its first Olympic medal in the sport at Sochi.
“We need to keep working the way we are,” said Gough. “We keep coming closer and closer.
“It is frustrating to see (Germany) on top all the time, but we are going to fight for it (in the next year).”