Canada’s sliding teams, Luge Canada and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, officially launched their 2013-2014 season last week with events at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. The ice is already in, representing one of the earliest openings in the track’s 25-year history as athletes prepare for a busy Olympic season.
On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Canadian Luge Team took to the ice with a plea for sponsorship.
Athletes wore “For Sale” stickers on their helmets during the training session and media conference, and a real estate board was posted at the top of the track to advertise the team.
The message is that the team is looking for a new headline sponsor after their last sponsor — also recruited with a “For Sale” campaign before the 2010 Games — elected not continue supporting the team moving forward. The previous sponsor, Fast Track Capital, contributed $1 million over four years to the program.
“We now have a massive financial hole in our program that we need to fill to provide our athletes the opportunity to train and compete,” said Tim Farstad, executive director for the Canadian Luge Association. “And we have a lot of return to offer to the corporate partner or partners who align themselves with our team and our athletes, and help us fill that financial gap.
“We are not looking for millions or freebies, but would like to establish a close relationship with a company, or group of partners, that can help ensure the success of our sport beyond 2014.”
The return Farstad was referring to was the increased visibility of the team in the last few years since the 2010 Games. Against all odds, the team is now officially on the map, and on the podium.
Alex Gough became the first Canadian in history to win a luge World Cup medal in the 2010-2011 season, ending the German team’s years long stranglehold on the podium. That season she also became the first Canadian to win a World Cup race — breaking a 105-event, 12-year German win streak — and the first Canadian to win a world championship medal. She now rarely finishes outside of the top five and is a bona fide medal contender for the 2014 Olympics.
Gough has also reached the podium several times in the new relay event, along with teammate Sam Edney — himself improving every season — and the tandem team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith. Since 2009, the Canadians have racked up 19 World Cup medals and four world championship medals. Athletes from B.C. and Alberta have also won 10 medals on the Junior/Youth World Cup circuit.
“(The previous sponsorship) is proof that money turns into medals and we do not want to take a step back,” said Gough. “Thanks to the partners we have on board with us, we now have multiple assets available in our program that deliver a tremendous amount of exposure far behind the track while we slide into communities across the country.”
As a sign how far the team has come, consider this: in the first year of Own the Podium funding in 2005 — which is provided to national sports organizations based on medal potential — Luge Canada received $360,000, about $50,000 more than they originally received from Sport Canada on an annual basis. In the last round of funding for 2013-2014, the team will receive $973,000 — pretty good for a program with just eight athletes at the senior level and eight at the development level (a group that includes Pemberton’s Jenna Spencer).
Canada has never won an Olympic medal in luge but will go into Sochi in February with a few legitimate contenders.
Luge isn’t the only sliding sport launching its team this week. Bobsleigh and Skeleton Canada unveiled their team on Wednesday, Oct. 2.
The program is in great shape, and is one of the top-funded Own the Podium sports with close to $2.3 million in support this year. That’s based on the team’s performance at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which includes two gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze, plus ongoing success in the sport.
For example, last season Kaillie Humphries and rookie brakewoman Chelsea Valois won the overall women’s bobsleigh title, while Humphries kept a streak alive from the previous season that includes nine World Cup wins and two world championship titles.
Pilot Lyndon Rush also made two podiums in two-man bobsleigh plus a medal in four-man, with pilot Chris Spring earning his first career podium in two-man and his first top five in four-man, to give the program some depth.
As well, the women’s skeleton team had a big year with Mellisa Hollingsworth winning the World Cup race in Whistler and placing second at the world championship, and Sarah Reid and Cassie Hawrysh continuing to improve with every event.
“We’ve had a great off-season, and the dryland training and recovery has gone very well, but we are competitors and everyone’s been itching to get back on the ice,” said Don Wilson, CEO of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.
“The track crew at Canada Olympic Park has done a phenomenal job to get everything ready for us to be in, and on, our sleds so early in the season, which is crucial to our preparation. We are happy to take every advantage as we prepare for the World Cup races and, ultimately, the big show at the Olympic Games in February.”
Locally, the ice is now in at Whistler Sliding Centre as well with crews making and shaping the ice from Oct. 1 to 7. The International Luge Federation (FIL) has been using the track for group training since Oct. 8.
Upcoming sessions include Luge Canada from Oct. 9 to 20, with the Canadian Championships taking place on Oct. 20. Bobsleigh Canada will be on the track Oct. 15 to 20, with the championships from Oct. 19 to 20. Skeleton Canada will be sliding from Oct. 22 to 26, with the Canadian Championships on Oct. 26.
The national championships decide who gets to compete for Canada on the World Cup circuit, and will have some bearing on who will represent Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.