There's a new trend on the FIL World Cup luge circuit and it was more than evident this past weekend at the Whistler Sliding Centre - Canada is catching up.
The host nation wrapped up the World Cup Saturday (Dec. 10) by capturing a silver medal in team relay before a crowd of more than 1,000, finishing off what was already an outstanding event for the Canadian team.
Alex Gough, Sam Edney and doubles partners Tristan Walker and Justin Snith had the last run of the Whistler event's final race and clocked in with a combined time of two minutes, 19.001 seconds, while powerhouse Germany won its third gold medal in two days by finishing at 2:18.773.
Canada now has gold and silver medals from the season's first two World Cup team relays, which sees lugers punch a target hanging a few dozen metres up the finish ramp to open the start gate for their teammate up top.
"We know that we're good in this event. We know that we can slide well in this event and that we have a strong team overall," said Edney, who had the fastest men's singles time in his leg of the relay. "It really shows the strength of our program and where we're headed."
Both Gough and Edney earned top-five results in their singles races as well. Gough was fourth in the women's race, in which Germany's Natalie Geisenberger edged teammate and 2010 Olympic champ Tatjana Hüfner for top spot. Russia's Tatiana Ivanova was third.
Gough's second run (37.686) was the third-fastest but not enough to make up the one-tenth she trailed Ivanova by for a podium spot after one run.
"The first start was off and that was kind of it, because the speed you don't have at the start is hard to get back down the track," said Gough, who was third in the season-opener at Igls, Austria in November. "I was close even with a mistake. It was definitely a good race for me and I slid really well so I was happy with that.
"I worked hard in the summer to get faster at the start. I just couldn't put it together today as nice as I would have liked in the first run. That's racing."
Hüfner led after the opening run but finished with a combined time four-hundredths slower than Geisenberger, who set a new start record en route to victory.
"I was fast in training and I knew that I could win if I made no mistakes, and I made one," said Geisenberger, the 2010 Olympic bronze-medalist. "So I am more than happy (to win)."
Arianne Jones had a solid 10th-place result for Canada in the women's race as well, while Kim McRae was 11th and Dayna Clay 16th.
Edney matched a career-best by placing fifth in Friday's (Dec. 9) men's race and improved upon his seventh-place finish in the Games. The lone Canadian in the race sat fourth after the opening run but fell back to fifth on the second, finishing with a two-run total time of one minute, 37.061 seconds to be under sixth-tenths off the winning time.
"I had a tough start to the year, but we knew where we wanted to go with the sledand with our equipment. We made some adjustments, made some changesand went more aggressive with the setup. It really worked," said Edney, who was 16th at Igls and happy to be back racing in Whistler.
"This has got to be the best track in the world for sure. The speed, that feeling of the adrenaline rush and hearing the crowd as you are sliding down is one of the coolest things you can ever feel. Whistler is really special.''
Edney was the only non-German in the top six, as reigning Olympic champ Felix Loch was best in Whistler once again and shared the podium with Johannes Ludwig and David Möller.
"I like the fast track here it's good for me," said Loch. "It's good for all Germans and all of the (sliding) today was very fast."
In Friday's doubles race that kicked the weekend off, Walker and Snith were 10th for their second top-10 finish in two events. They were sixth after one run but fell back after a mistake early in the second run.
"We had some trouble on the start of our second run and just lost speed coming down the track," said Walker. "We will learn from this. It's great to be back on this track and racing in front of our friends and family in Canada."
World champions and brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger were winners in a one-two finish for Austria. Peter Penz and Georg Fischler held off Italy's Patrick Gruber and Christian Oberstolz for the runner-up spot.
The World Cup tour resumes this weekend in Calgary (Dec. 16 and 17) and Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger was thrilled to see his team heading there on a high note.
"We had a very good weekend and we have to be happy," Staudinger said following Saturday's relay. "Finishing with the team event I knew the Germans would come back hard, and they did, but I'm very happy with second place and we're tied for first in the overall standings, so that is fantastic for us."
-with files from Nicole Trigg