Major luge races planned for Whistler

World Cup, World Championships over next two seasons; CLA spends weekend promoting sport

The Canadian Luge Association officially announced Saturday (June 11) that the Whistler Sliding Centre will host a FIL World Cup race in December as well as the 2013 World Luge Championships.

CLA officials made the announcement during a reception for guests and sponsors after the national sport organization wrapped up its annual general meetings in Whistler earlier in the day.

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Dates have yet to be confirmed, but the World Cup event planned for December will be the second race of the 2011-'12 season and will mark the return of the world's elite lugers to Whistler for the first time since the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"It's going to be really exciting to be back here," said national team veteran Jeff Christie on Friday (June 10). "We spent three years of our lives here getting ready for the Games and one of the big things we try within the luge federation is to try and come back to Olympic venues. It was built with that vibe behind it and you don't want to just leave it behind."

The Canadian squad will be looking to build off of an incredible 2010-'11 season that was highlighted by the achievements of Calgary's Alex Gough.

"It's exciting to be able to come back and have another shot at an international competition here," said Gough, who placed 18th at the 2010 Games but has been outstanding since.

The 24-year-old became the first-ever Canadian to win a World Cup race with her triumph at Paramonovo, Russia in February that broke a streak of 105 consecutive victories by German women dating back to 1997.

She also claimed a bronze medal at the 2011 world championships and had three other podium finishes in World Cup competition to make her the most decorated Canadian luger ever - and all in the space of one season.

The entire national team was in town for the weekend and spent Friday visiting students at Myrtle Philip and Spring Creek community schools.

Between the two schools, several hundred elementary school children were given a brief introduction to the sport. The national squad brought in a basic start ramp and roller luge sleds to give some kids a taste of off-ice sliding.

"It's great to come out and talk to the kids because they're so interested," said Gough. "They want to learn and they're having fun."

During both Friday's school sessions and Saturday's reception, national team athletes and CLA officials stressed how lucky Whistler residents are to have one of the world's few luge tracks in their community. Children were encouraged to take part in upcoming summer recruitment camps at the sliding centre, the next of which takes place this Saturday (June 18).

"We've always tried to engage in the community and the reason we're doing this is to hopefully open their eyes to the unique opportunity they have," said Christie. "I liken it to skiing - (Whistler has) one of the best ski hills in the world and you're getting lots of cool freeskiers and downhill skiers out of it.

"We have one of the best tracks in the world here, so just give it a shot."

The safety audit underway at the Whistler Sliding Centre is expected to be completed by the fall, said an official with venue operator Whistler Sport Legacies. It is expected that once the audit is completed, a decision will be made on whether or not the men's start can be re-opened. The highest start position on the track has been closed for luge runs since Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili died on a training run prior to the Olympics.

While addressing attendees at Saturday's event, Gough stressed that luge is a "safe" sport and CLA officials have previously expressed no concerns with the safety of the track.

For more information on recruitment camps or on other ways to get involved with the sport, visit www.luge.ca.

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