(ISN) – CALGARY–Sam Edney put a fairytale ending to an emotional week becoming the first Canadian ever to win a men’s World Cup luge race on Saturday at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park.
Wearing a specially painted bear helmet for this one race that was designed by Alberta Children’s Hospital patient – 19-year-old Richard Flamenco – the Edney, 30, had the race of his life sliding to his first-ever World Cup podium in thrilling fashion with a golden time of 46.146 in the one-run event.
Flamenco is a young artist who was diagnosed with Epidermolysis Bullosa, which causes painful blistering of the skin. He has spent the majority of his life at the Alberta Children’s Hospital where he receives treatment focused on addressing the symptoms of this incurable disease.
“This is a surreal moment. There is a sense of calmness today I guess with this helmet. I can’t put it into words right now. It is pretty overwhelming and it is a pleasure to have Richard here with me,” said Edney while breaking into tears at the finish area with his arm around Flamenco. “To wear this helmet was probably the most amazing day of my life.”
One of the most respected athletes on the elite luge circuit, Edney’s golden run didn’t come without its share of drama. The three-time Olympian was 17th out of the start house where he posted the fastest opening run. With weather conditions changing throughout the first heat, race officials made a controversial decision to wipe out the opening run results, and conduct a one-run race in the afternoon.
Edney kept his emotions in check, put on the Bear helmet and raced to the bottom where he greeted a cheering Flamenco at the finish line.
“It is an outdoors sport and it happens. It has happened to lots of other guys. But for me, it was going to be two runs today regardless, and I knew I had to have the two best runs of my life to try and beat these guys out here,” said Edney. “I just had to reset, and said ‘Okay, I have to put one down here and that was the goal for the second run.”
Standing in the winner’s circle with his arm around Flamenco who was holding the golden masterpiece that Edney declared yesterday he felt “unstoppable” in when he put it on, the two new best friends watched one-by-one as the world’s best including Olympic and World Champions failed to better the veteran of the Canadian Luge Team.
“Sam told me all week how powerful he felt wearing this helmet and I just means a lot to me that it might have helped him today,” said Flamenco. “To see him wearing my helmet on the big screen, and to be a good luck charm for Sam, I can’t believe it. I was nervous watching the race and squeezing this good luck charm (helmet).”
Olympic champion, Felix Loch of Germany, finished second at 46.255. American Chris Mazdzer slid to the bronze with a time of 46.263. Calgary’s 19-year-old Mitchel Malyk had the best race of his career placing ninth with a time of 46.536. John Fennell, also of Calgary, finished 19th (46.694).
Edney and Flamenco met as part of two-time Olympic alpine skier, Brad Spence’s Helmets or Heroes program, that was launched on Friday in Calgary. Edney is the second in what Spence hopes to be a long list of Canada’s high-performance athletes to take part in Helmets for Heroes – a special project Spence conceived earlier this year when he met Calgary Osteosarcoma patient Gillian O’Blenes-Kaufman during a community outreach visit to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Recognizing her incredible artistic talent, Spence asked O’Blenes-Kaufman to design and paint the helmet he wore to compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. The goal is to have athletes in all helmet sports get involved in the program. Athletes will wear the helmets for one race and then sell them with proceeds going to the Foundation which is yet to be set up. All money raised from Sam’s helmet this year will be donated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
Edney had an angel helping him from above on Saturday. Sadly O’Blenes-Kaufman lost her battle with cancer on Monday evening. Spence was at the finish to greet Edney on Saturday before leaving the race to attend O’Blenes-Kaufman’s funeral.
“As soon as I put that helmet on I just felt I had all this confidence and strength,” said Edney. “It is hard to explain, but I think this experience shows there is so much more than just the results. It was such an inspirational moment for me to be here with Richard and to have it all come together like this is unbelievable.”
The reality check couldn’t have come at a better time for Edney. Competing in his first World Cup since a heart-wrenching Sochi Games where Edney and his Canadian mates came up just shy of their first ever Olympic medal with three fourths, and a fifth-place finish, the Canuck lugers had the most successful World Cup ever in the history of the program reaching the podium in all race disciplines against a top field. In addition to Edney, Alex Gough and Arianne Jones won the silver and bronze medals in women’s singles. The team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith also won the bronze in doubles racing.
“The Olympics was a tough thing for us. We went in there the best we’ve ever been, and we wanted to prove to Canada that we can compete with the best. That was something that we carried with us through the summer,” said Edney. “There was tough days out there going to the gym and telling yourself that you still wanted to continue to push to be the best. It was not easy, but all that hard work we put in over the years is paying off and it is showing that we are here to do good things.”
The Canadian luge program has been on an incredible ride since Canada was awarded the 2010 Games. It took the program more than two decades to win three medals. With additional funding from the Government of Canada through the Own the Podium program, the CLA has created a high-performance program that is among the best in the country.
“I was there in those dark days when we were travelling without a physio, had one coach and were sleeping in vans. Our program has made the right decisions over the years. We put in the hard work and this team has a lot of confidence.”
Edney received $5,000 for his podium finish 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 cheque was presented by Tyler Seitz, who is the manager of track operations in Calgary. Seitz is the only other Canadian to podium in men’s singles when he won the bronze in 2002 on the Calgary track.
The Canadians will now take this confidence with them on the road to Europe. They will head to Konigssee, Germany after the holiday break.
To purchase Sam’s Helmets for Heroes or for more information on the Foundation, please contactBrad Spence at firstname.lastname@example.org