(ISN) – CALGARY—Canada’s luge athletes squashed any hint of an Olympic hangover by putting down their most successful day in the history of the Luge World Cup with three medals on Friday night at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park.
Coming off a heart-breaking Olympics where the team was forced to deal with three fourths, and a fifth-place finish, the women and doubles team made a powerful statement the Canadians mean business with a silver and two bronze medals.
Tristan Walker and Justin Snith became the first Canadian doubles tandem to reach the World Cup podium on home ice with a bronze, while Alex Gough and Arianne Jones took the party to a new level at the Olympic Track in Calgary, claiming the silver and bronze medals respectively.
The 27-year-old Gough made her successful return to the World Cup with a second-place finish after clocking a two-run time of one minute, 33.918 seconds (1:33.918).
“I had a few nerves, but when it came down to racing and getting in the start handles all that falls away,” said Gough, who had two fourth-place finishes in Sochi in addition to placing second overall on the World Cup last year. “That feeling of going down the track all comes back and that is what I love to do. I felt good sliding. I had good runs and I’m happy with it.”
In addition to training for her first race since the Sochi Games, Gough wrote three final exams earlier in the week as part of her first-year engineering courses at the University of Calgary.
“Today is positive reinforcement that going back to school, and taking some time away, was the right decision for me. I didn’t lose anything and I am as competitive as ever.”
It was Gough’s 19th World Cup podium to go along with her two World Championship medals. It was her fellow Olympic teammate, Arianne Jones’, first.
Sitting in fourth spot after the opening run, the 24-year-old Calgarian had the run of her life in her second bomb down the 1,200-metre track that eventually jumped her into the bronze medal position on the podium with a time of 1:34.274.
“I don’t even think it has really sunk in yet,” beamed the pint-sized Canuck, whose previous best was a sixth-place finish. “I came down and I was so happy to be in fourth and I don’t even know what happened. I’m thrilled. It is unbelievable.”
Jones grabbed the podium spot from German luge legend Tatjana Hufner who made a costly error in her second run.
“Training had been going well and I wanted to confirm that in the race. I have had tonnes of runs here. I feel super comfortable here. I know how to drive these lines and I just tried to push my position to the furthest I could,” said Jones, who has been battling with three other Canadian girls over the last two races to earn the final spot to travel the World Cup post-Christmas.
“I know in my comfort zone I can be in that top-10 range. I said lets see what I can do pushing my comfort zone and this is a pretty good result from that.”
Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger won the women’s race with a time of 1:33.860.
Two other Calgary-based Canadians also finished in the top 10. Kim McRae was seventh at 1:34.406. Jordan Smith placed ninth at 1:34.729.
The Canadian track to the podium got underway in the afternoon when Tristan Walker and Justin Snith became the first-ever Canadian sled to win a World Cup medal on home ice when they grabbed the bronze.
The 23-year-olds clocked the third-fastest time on their opening blast down the Calgary track, and held on for the bronze medal and the second World Cup podium of their career, clocking a two-run time of one minute, 28.014 seconds (1:28.014).
“It is really, really nice to go into the break with a medal under the belt,” said Walker, of Cochrane, Alta, who along with Calgary’s Snith had two difficult outings to start the post-Olympic year.
“We were hoping coming off last season with our first podium, and to be so close at the Olympics (with two fourth-place finishes), that we’d be pushing for the medals this year. “It is so nice to be able to do that today after that slow start to the season.”
The Canucks shared the podium with two German sleds. Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken won the gold with a time of 1:27.806. Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt slid to the silver at 1:27.845.
The bronze medal was extra sweet given Canada’s most successful doubles duo edged out the Latvian team of Andris Sics and Juris Sics who knocked them off the Olympic podium in 2014. On Friday, it was the Latvian’s turn to finish fourth.
“There just may be an extra bit of satisfaction there,” laughed Snith following the flowers ceremony. “We had two runs that were good enough today. I’m not overly happy with second run. We made couple of mistakes on the bottom, but didn’t cost us too much time.”
With the doubles medal, Canada has now finally reached the podium in all three traditional race disciplines in Calgary since the track opened for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. Tyler Seitz, who is the manager of track operations in Calgary and the Canadian track record holder, was the first Canadian to podium on home ice when he slid to the bronze in men’s singles in 2002. Calgary’s Alex Gough also captured the gold in women’s singles the last time the Luge World Cup slid into the Stampede City in 2011.
Other Canadian luge athletes to win medals in World Cup history include: Marie-Claude Doyon (1987 in Sarajevo) and Regan Lauscher (2004 in Lake Placid). The only other time two Canadians have shared a World Cup came last year when Alex Gough and Kim McRae also finished second and third in Altenberg – just weeks before the Olympic Winter Games.
“The story just builds today. It is such a fantastic, unbelievable day for us,” said Gough. “It just reinforces this program is going in the right direction and we have everything we need in this sport to be successful. I’m just so happy for my teammates and I can’t wait to raise a toast with them because they did such a fantastic job today.”
Gough, Jones and the doubles team will receive $5,000 each for their podium finishes as part of Winsport’s Sarah Burke Award that is presented to any Canadian athlete that wins a medal during World Cup races at Canada Olympic Park.
The World Cup continues on Sunday with the men’s singles race at 11 a.m., followed by the new sprint discipline.
Women’s Top-Five and Canadian Results:
1.Natalie Geisenberger, GER, 1:33.860; 2. Alex Gough, Calgary, CAN, 1:33.918; 3. Arianne Jones, Calgary, CAN, 1:34.274; 4. Tatjana Hufner, GER, 1:34.294; 5. Anke Wischnewski, GER, 1:34.347
7. Kim McRae, Calgary, 1:34.406; 9. Jodan Smith, Calgary, 1:34.729
Doubles Top-Five and Canadian Results:
1. Eggert/Benecken, GER, 1:27.806; 2. Wendl/Arlt, GER, 1:27.845; 3. Walker (Cochrane, Alta./Snith, Calgary), 1:28.014; 4. Sics/Sics, LAT, 1:28.027; 5. Oberstolz/Gruber, ITA, 1:28.180